Tag Archives: flowers

Garden Update – Flowers

Where we live in the central belt of Scotland is blessed with really late light nights in midsummer. This means we can spend hours in the garden every evening, especially this year when we have had the added bonus (until two days ago) of a heatwave which was preceded by a long dry spell. For a week or so we were able to work in the garden until 11pm.

The irony is that all the time spent outside gardening means I have been neglecting this blog (although those following my other blog www.ayearinmygarden2013.com will have been able to see weekly pictures of the garden).

Some sweet peas that did not get eaten.....yet!

Some sweet peas that did not get eaten…..yet!

So here is the first round up of what has been happening……

For the year up to the end of June I was working on a full time contract and so knew from early on that there was no way I would have the time to grow as many flowers from seed as I usually do. It has also become clear over the last few years that the solution to the empty spaces in our large borders is to fill them with perennial plants, cutting down on the need for annuals and bedding plants.

However, I still grew all my favourites from seed…cosmos, osteospermum, snap dragons, livingstone daisies, rudbeckia, gazania, zinnia, morning glory, sunflowers, sweet peas, marigolds and ladybird poppies. Also, new for this year (mainly due to the selection of free seeds with Amateur Gardening magazine) I tried hollyhock, nicotiana, laurentia, cleome, portulaca, aquilegia (lime sorbet), pansies, bellis, sweet william, foxgloves and swan river daisies (brachycome).

Sweet William - all from free seeds!

Sweet William – all from free seeds!

I planted loads of gladioli and allium bulbs in the garden and for the first time am trying out agapanthus, calla lillies and freesias in pots.

One of the alliums - not sure which variety

One of the alliums – not sure which variety

As for perennials, I kept a beady eye out for email and magazine offers and now have a collection of alstomeria, chrysanthemums, penstemons, heuchera and heucherella, coreopsis, monarda, dianthus, helenium, achillea and geums to name a few.

Monard, otherwise known as Bee Balm

Monard, otherwise known as Bee Balm

The good…….

The livingstone daisies, osteospermum and gazanias at the front door have created a stunning display, made even better by all the sunshine. Last year, it was so wet and cloudy all summer, that it was October before the gazanias even developed a flower bud and then the frost killed it before it even opened.

Part of the display at the front door

Part of the display at the front door

From a free “double” packet of bellis and sweet william seeds received last year, successful germination meant I had to give loads of plants away. Mr Mac chucked the rest in the garden at the end of the autumn and we had given them up for dead when all of a sudden they just took off, producing hundreds of flowers and filling some huge gaps in the side border. They are biennials and so hopefully there will be many more to come next year as they have been left to self-seed.

Bellis

Bellis

I was attracted to penstemons as they claimed to flower all summer long and slugs don’t like them….a huge issue for us last year. I went for a “blue” collection and an “ice cream” collection. They are certainly living up to their claim and I would definitely invest in some more.

Penstemon - either Blueberry Ice or Juice Grape

Penstemon – either Blueberry Ice or Juice Grape

For a while I had my eye on some heucheras as I love the variations in colour and ground cover they provide. I ordered a heuchera collection along with a heucherella collection including varieties such as solar eclipse, alabama sunrise and sweet tea. They are starting to settle in and fill in some of the gaps……and I just love them.

Some of the heucheras just ready to be planted out.

Some of the heucheras just ready to be planted out.

The bad………

This year for some reason, my Nana’s magnolia tree did not flower. This is its third year in the garden and we had flowers for the first two years. Maybe it was the very cold Spring? A mystery, especially as all other magnolias in this area seemed to flourish.

Two plants on my hit list for this year were meconopsis (Himalyan poppy) and Japanese anemone. I ordered one Anemone Serenade and two Meconopsis China Blue, all as established plants. I potted them on and then planted them out but with very limited success. The anemone just disappeared and the meconopsis took a long time to settle in and start growing but one of them has just turned to mush. I dug up the anemone roots and stuck them in a pot to see if it will grow back. I have supplemented the meconopsis with another two plants and hopefully next year will have some coveted blue flowers.

Geranium Alba - one of only three flowers so far

Geranium Alba – one of only three flowers so far

Yet again I have had no success growing Black Eyed Susan from seed so, after four years of trying, I am calling it a day.

The agapanthus bulbs were a slight afterthought and were planted right at the very end of the planting window. Three pots were planted up along with some freesia bulbs and only one pot has produced a shoot and even that has stopped growing at three inches!

My hanging baskets saw mixed success. I planted them with million bells and trailing lobelia. The yellow millions bells have been lost to white fly. The lobelia was failing to trail but thanks to torrential rain storms over the last couple of days it has now been flattened into submission.

Millions bells in the hanging baskets

Millions bells in the hanging baskets

……and the downright ugly

After having been under attack in the Spring from a combination of escapee sheep, a badger and potentially a pheasant we thought we were safe until one morning I discovered all my sweet peas, peas and pansies had been chewed down to the ground. This has since been followed by the geraniums, lupins, a whole hosta and my alstromeria. The prime suspect is one of the deer who I caught red handed earlier this week eating my parsnips. It is soul destroying but now, if it is not covered with netting, there is something whirly, dangly or sparkly nearby…..the garden is turning into an outside disco!

This was a hosta! It appears to be growing back though....no thanks to Bambi!

This was a hosta! It appears to be growing back though….no thanks to Bambi!

Violas - before Bambi

Violas – before Bambi

Violas - after Bambi

Violas – after Bambi

A further mystery was when everything in one corner of the trellis border starting going brown and dying. Anemone de Caen bulbs planted last year starting to emerge and then just went brown and disappeared. The same happened to a selection of geranium plants I ordered last year and had overwintered in the greenhouse before planting out. We could not work out what was going on but there was a gap that needed filled and we bought some bedding plants to stick in. While digging the soil a strong smell emerged. It was familiar but we could not quite put a finger on it…..then lightbulb……it was white spirit. It turns out when we were having some painting done, the decorator cleaned his brushes at the outside tap then emptied everything into the soil beside it. Archie – you owe me three geraniums and a packet of Anemone bulbs!

Helenium -  two plants bought from a specialist nursery at Gardening Scotland

Helenium – two plants bought from a specialist nursery at Gardening Scotland

This just makes me smile

This just makes me smile

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il giardinaggio per gli avvocati italiani (or gardening for Italian lawyers – I think!)

After our disastrous summer, Mr Mac and I took ourselves off to Italy last month to catch some late summer sun……and we were not disappointed. This was our third trip to Italy, our second to Ravello and my first as a gardener.

 
From previous holidays my lasting memory was tomatoes. Big fat ripe juicy sweet tasty tomatoes everywhere. When I think about it, that is probably why tomatoes are my most precious crop. But our wishy washy Scottish summers cannot compete with the sunshine and heat of Naples and the intensity and sweetness of flavour they bring. A simple insalata pomodoro can make you smile all day!

This time, having spent all year scrutinising my own garden, I was immediately draw to all things green and vegetative. What struck me the most was how every square inch of ground is given up to growing fruit and vegetables.

 

These vegetables were being grown in the ground at a hairpin bend in the road!

 

 

Ravello sits 375 metres above sea level. Check the view from town down to the sea. Almost vertical but look at all the terraces filled with produce.

Even the hotels were getting in on the act and making a big deal about growing their own fruit and veg. This is the garden for the Hotel Villa Maria.

This did backfire on us though. On our first day we were treated to a delicious antipasti of figs with parma ham. Every day after that when we asked for figs we were told, “figgies finish”. The hotel’s fig tree was empty. However, on our last evening our waiter gave a conspiratorial wink when we gave our order, he disappeared for ten minutes and then returned with a plate full of juicy ripe figs. He nicked them from a neighbour’s garden!

As so much ground is given over to growing fruit and vegetables there are not many flowers in gardens. Other than Villa Rufulo and Villa Cimbrone where there are cultivated beds of roses and dahlias, most of the flowers we saw were wild. A perfect example can be seen in this bush growing wild.

And remember my blue wall project I tried this year? A trellis full of blue sweet peas and morning glory…well these morning glory climbers at the side of a road were slightly more successful than mine!

One feature of almost every garden was these trumpet flowers in yellow and peach….absolutely stunning.

Cyclamen were also growing in abundance under every tree. A far cry from the potted up versions currently being sold in our supermarkets and garden centres.

Finally, it would appear to be law that to be eligible to collect olives you must have a minimum age of 80! It was scary how many old couples with a combined age of 160 we saw climbing trees.

Arrivaderci!

Sometimes it pays to be lazy

Today was a rare thing in these parts….a sunny day! Well it was until 4pm when it started to thunder and pour with rain.  However, it was a well needed weekend opportunity to have a good tidy in the garden. Plus I still have flowers in the greenhouse which should have been planted out months ago. (They are still there after rain stopped play!).
Every year I always have big plans for the border underneath the kitchen window. This year was no different. It was going to be a swathe of chrysanthemums, asters, clarkia, cornflowers and any other cut flower I could get my hands on.

With everything else to do I just never got round to it. I did plant some chrysanthemum seeds but I think Dennis dug them up before they had a chance to germinate.  I just left it and pulled out the odd weed every time I walked past.

Last year I planted calendula in this border and look what happened!

They self-seeded and have virtually taken up the whole border.

They same thing has also happened at the gate.

I have not had even a fraction of this success with the flowers I have grown from seed this year.

I also felt bad about neglecting my herbs. Watering was erratic and most of them went to seed. However, in the case of coriander this is a good thing. I now have loads of coriander seeds for cooking with. Result!

So maybe the secret to success in the garden is just do nothing at all!

 

My blue wall seems to be orange and purple!

My little sister emailed me yesterday and pointed out I had not posted anything for a while. I realise this is true but there is a reason. Every time I sat down to write something all I could think about was the awful weather, nothing is growing and how the garden is being eaten alive by slugs.

I am one of life’s positive people – irritatingly so sometimes. My glass is always half full etc etc etc but when midsummer night came and we were sitting in the dark with the fire on – normally we would be sitting outside until after 11pm – even I found it too hard to think of something positive.

Since then, the temperature has risen to a level that is still below average for this time of year but slightly warmer than the record breaking coldest June on record levels experienced recently. And there has been the odd sunny spell. It is still very wet, that combination of heat and damp that conspires against straight, shiny hair (ladies, you’ll know what I mean), but that is why scrunchies were invented.

So last night when I got home I wandered round the garden looking for something positive to tell you all and, despite recent adverse conditions, there is some good news.

My experiment growing early carrots and peas inside the greenhouse has paid off and I now have lots of the sweetest petit pois and Autumn King and Purple Haze carrots to eat. The spinach and pak choi are also ready for eating.

The tomatoes, lettuce, rocket, basil, coriander, peppers and chillies are all making progress, the aubergines are in the bed in the greenhouse and I have flowers on my melons (ok how many of you are hearing Kenneth Williams saying “ooh matron!”).

Outside, the brassicas are happy and there is beetroot, fennel, beans, peas and mangetout. The strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants should be ready for picking soon and the potato bags have already been filled up to cover the shaws.

On the flower front, I have still not finished planting all my seedlings, but most of what I have planted has been eaten by slugs.  I have turned my focus to the winter flowering pansies and perennial flowers for next year which are all germinating nicely inside.

Finally, my biggest surprise came when the flowers on my blue wall started to come out. I dedicated a trellis and the border in front of it to be only blue flowers to see if I could create a wall of blue flowers. For the climbers I picked blue sweet peas and a variety of morning glory called Grandpa Otts – a lovely royal blue flower. In the border I have planted blue and white anemones, white cosmos, silver dust, salvia, catnip (not that there is much left after Dennis has eaten it) and, when they are a bit bigger, my lavender that I have grown from seed.

Well the monring glory flowers have started to come out. What colour would you say this is?

In my book this is purple!

However, at least purple is closer in the colour spectrum to blue than this anemone!

My blue and white anemones appear to be orange!!!!!

But after the season we’ve had so far I am just delighted to have any flowers.

Happy gardening!

The greenhouse that time forgot

It feels as if nothing is really growing but I have just looked at some photographs taken a month ago and there has been some movement…but not nearly as much as there should have been. It is as if time has stopped.

I should have my tomato plants in growbags by now. I am only growing three varieties this year, moneymaker, red cherry and sungold. These are the ones I always have most success with.

I was having a bit of blogger banter with fellow gardening blogger Adam Leone (see Carrot Tops Allotment http://carrottopsallotment.com/) about the tastiest cherry tomato. He reckoned Gardeners Delight is the best variety but I think sungold is just that bit better. Put it this way, last year very few of our sungold tomatoes made it as far as the kitchen. In fact, very few made it out of the greenhouse. They were so sweet we ate them like sweeties.

So I set Adam a challenge. Grow both varieties and then do a blind tasting to see which one he prefers. He has even gone as far as mention my challenge in his last podcast and he has planted his sungold seeds – so the challenge is on! All we need now is some sunshine!

This week I managed to plant swedes and Florence fennel outside. The beetroot and peas I planted outside a couple of weeks ago have germinated which is good news.

I have potted on some zinnias, cosmos and diascia. The flowers and brassicas are all hardening off nicely. It has certainly been the perfect hardening off weather!

The brassicas could really do with being planted out now but we dug over the plot two weeks ago and normally we would have expected the clods of earth to have dried enough to crumble when stamped on. However, it has never stopped raining long enough and so I am unable to get the patch prepared for planting!

The brassica patch is not quite ready!

My sweet peas have been ready to go out for weeks and they have become really straggly and unsightly…so I sowed some more.

My gran’s magnolia tree is about to flower but we have had to cover it with fleece a few nights when frost was forecast.

Casper the friendly ghost!

I lost a melon and courgette plant, so only have one of each left. I have planted some more seeds just in case.

The good news is the peas, livingstone daisies, sunflowers, potatoes, blueberry, carrots and pak choi are thriving in the greenhouse and the strawberry plants outside have started to flower! My 4 okra plants seem to be in the land that time forgot.

24 April 2012

18 May 2012 – spot the difference!

I have not been able to sow any seeds for cut flowers outside, something new I wanted to try this year. So I have just planted up some large pots and left them in the greenhouse until things warm up.

The forecast for the weekend is sunny spells with a high temperature of…FIVE DEGREES! Never mind, it’s nearly June……

 

Patience is a virtue, especially for gardeners!

Last year, while perusing the walls of seed packets at the garden centre, one packet caught my eye.

Acquilegia Petticoat Pink. The packet stated “early colour perfect in cottage gardens”. I was taken by the picture of the flowers: delicate pink and white frilly bells.

Reading the front of the packet it said to sow February to June, flowers May to July. Perfect, I thought, for some early colour and pretty little flowers.

Only when I got home and went to sow the seeds did I realise that they are a hardy perennial which flowers the year after sowing!

For novices reading this, a perennial is a plant which continues to grow for at least 3 years. It took me a while to learn that.

So although I had bought seeds for a plant that would not flower for at least 15 months, I would at least get a few years of benefit.

I planted the seeds on 20 April 2011, potted them on in June, kept them in a cold frame over the summer and planted them in the ground in their flowering position in September.

Finally, after just over a year of waiting, the first flowers have come out.

They are absolutely stunning. Smaller than I thought they would be and, in the ground, they look a bit spindly until they fill out, but a welcome addition of colour around the base of the apple and pear tree where I planted them.

I am so pleased with them I have bought some more acquilegia seeds called lime sorbet and, provided they germinate and grow successfully, I will plant them in between the petticoat pinks.

Once they have died back I also plan to plant the remaining tulip bulbs (the ones that did not get eaten by the pheasant!) in among them.

 

Oops!…thank you Monty Don

Some of you might remember I posted a blog on 30 March 2012 – Unidentified Growing Objects!

Weird pineapple shaped plants were sprouting underneath the livingroom window and I assumed they must be dahlias as that is what I had grown there last year. I was not 100% convinced though because they were not in the same place and all the foliage was the same. I planted 4 different types of dahlia with dark green to lime green foliage and, in fact, waxed lyrical in my blog about the variety this provides even before the plants flower!

Anyway, last night we had our regular Friday night date with Monty Don on Gardeners’ World. Monty was seen bringing pots of pineapple shaped plants out of his shed, ready to plant them outside.

I said to Mr Mac, “Oh look, Monty has the same dahlias as me. Let’s see what he does with his.”

But Monty did not start talking about dahlias. Oh no. He started telling viewers all about his collection of………….lilies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My chin dropped into my glass of chenin blanc (don’t worry, I did not spill any).

Then it all started to come back to me. Last year we grew some asiatic lilies in pots on our deck. They were stunning when they flowered but the display was over too soon. We must have needed the pots for something else and so emptied out the lily bulbs and planted them in the ground. I can’t really remember!

Anyway, it has resulted in a happy accident. We will have some lovely lilies while we wait for the dahlias to grow. No sign of them yet though….

 

 

Lessons learned:

  1. Always write down what you plant, when you planted it and where. When I plant things, it always seems obvious at the time but 2 weeks later when you have planted 100 other things in the meantime, things get blurry! See my blog about my muscari for a prime example.
  2. Place a little marker in the ground so even when there is nothing there you will know there is something underneath the ground. This happened recently when Mr Mac dug up all my echinacea plants only to find the marker afterwards! That was how he realised it was echinacea and not weeds!

 

Best of friends – a quick guide to companion planting

My seedlings are all coming along nicely…they just need a bit more sunshine!

As well as my usual veg I have also planted loads of French marigold and sweet basil seeds to act as “companion plants”. I can’t remember where I first came across companion planting, but when I sat down to write this blog I checked my gardening books to see if I could pick up any interesting information or tips and was amazed at how little is actually written about this subject.

The internet is different, with everyone and their dog having an opinion about what is best. At the end of the day it all boils down to what you grow and where you live.

Companion planting is when you grow two or more types of plant closely together for mutual benefit.  There is a lot of talk about it being an organic method of pest control. I am not trying to be organic and would use chemicals as a last resort but as I am growing most of the “companions” anyway, why not just plant them where they will benefit another plant?

Most companion plants are strongly scented and confuse pests looking for their host plant. Others attract beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and lacewings, which prey on aphids. Some attract pollinators, like bees.

As I mentioned above, I grow marigolds and basil – these are my top 2 companion plants. I must admit I am not that keen on marigolds or their smell. I have flashbacks to the 1970s and tidy gardens edged with marigolds – the height of sophistication at the time! However, if you look at any list of suitable companions, marigolds appear the most.

Marigolds ready for action!

I keep loads in the greenhouse and also plant them among my veg. The smell repels many insects. They also attract aphid eating hoverflies and keep whitefly away from tomatoes.

As for the basil I plant this between all my tomato plants as it is supposed to keep whitefly away. It is also perfect for picking at the same time as tomatoes for that classic combination! I have also learned that the shade provided by the tomato plants helps to stop the basil going to seed.

Basil coming along nicely!

Other top companions to try:

  • Garlic chive – when planted alongside carrots, its strong scent confuses and deters the carrot root fly, which can normally smell carrots from up to a mile away.
  • Lavender – attracts a range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Its strong scent can also deter aphids. Plant with carrots and leeks to confuse pests.
  • Sage – is strongly scented and will confuse pests of brassicas if planted alongside them. Its blue flowers attract bees and hoverflies, which also pollinate crops.
  • Thyme – makes a good companion plant for roses, as its strong scent deters blackfly. A tea made from soaking thyme leaves and sprayed on cabbages can prevent whitefly.
  • Nasturtiums – when planted with French and runner beans, the nasturtium acts as a sacrificial crop, luring aphids away from the beans. Its attractive flowers help attract beneficial insects, which prey on aphids.
  • Fennel – if left to flower it produces attractive yellow blooms that attract hoverflies, which prey on aphids.
  • Mint – the strongly scented leaves of mint confuse pests of carrots, tomatoes, alliums and brassicas, and deter flea beetles.

The combinations are endless and it depends what you are growing and what works for you. Last year my friend simply planted garlic beside everything she grew. This year, as well as the marigolds and basil, I am going to plant lavender among my leeks and sage between my brassicas.  It may all be an old wives tale but what is the worst that can happen?

Chives and mint
Lavender

Fingers crossed for a pest-free season!

My favourite livingstone daisies

Our first few years at this house were spent renovating inside. The garden was neglected other than cutting the grass, some emergency tree surgery and seeing what plants we had inherited.

There was an overgrown bush in front of the kitchen window which blocked our view of the gate. It was also a jaggy bush and as Mr Mac has made it his mission to eliminate all things jaggy from the garden,  it was pulled out and burned.

This did leave us with a large area to fill and so off we went to the garden centre to buy a selection of bedding plants to give us some colour for the summer. After parting with £50 of his hard-earned cash Mr Mac announced that from then on I could grow my own flowers!

We bought a selection of livingstone daisies, calendula and zinnias and I fell in love with them all, especially the livingstone daisies. These are the flowers I chose for my blog banner at the top of the page.

Now some of you may have noticed that there has not been much actual gardening going on over the last week although I have (hopefully) been keeping you entertained with tales of broken pottery and growing chips. There is a reason for this. See below!

A victim of my own succcess! All of these little seedlings need a new home.

I planted a tray of livingstone daisy seeds and look at how they have germinated. I knew they were ready for potting on but I could not face it and kept putting it off. However, I had a word with myself yesterday, cleared a space in the greenhouse, put the radio on and got on with it.

There was a lot of wastage but in the end I stopped after 360!

360 livingstone daisies

I grow so many because we have several long borders and the daisies create a stunning display as well as provide good ground cover. I have also grown some to give to friends.

There were two things that kept me going. The first was knowing how fantastic they will look. When they open their wee smiley faces to the sun my heart just melts. The second was the fact that the garden centre sells 6 plants for £3. So I calculate that for a packet of seeds that cost £1.49 I have saved Mr Mac £180!

As a bonus this year I also got a free packet of livingstone daisy seeds with Amateur Gardening magazine (worth £1.99). They are a different variety but (thankfully!) have not germinated quite as successfully. They should be ready to pot on soon.

If you are tempted to grow some I promise you, you won’t regret it. They are perfect for the edge of borders and seem to be able to grow in any type of soil as long they are in a sunny spot.

Their “Sunday” name is Mesembryanthemum which means midday flowering. They are native to South Africa and are also known as fig marigolds or icicle plant.

This is what they looked like last year.