Tag Archives: plants

Help! I seem to have a UFO!

Can anyone help me? I have discovered a UFO (Unidentified Flowering Object) in a pot outside my greenhouse.

Yesterday I decided to pay attention to my mantra “a tidy greenhouse is a happy greenhouse”, and set about pulling out weeds (including a pak choi plant!) which had started growing in between the slabs and having a general tidy. At the greenhouse door was a variety of pots into which cuttings and seeds had been thrown and left to do their thing.

However, having managed to identify what might actually be a plant and what was definitely a weed, I came across this little fellow.

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I quizzed Mr Mac about it but he drew a blank. We have no idea what it is or how it might have got into a pot outside the greenhouse.

It looks like grass but with a beautiful purple flower.

Apologies for the lack of focus. My camera was in a huff for some reason.

Apologies for the lack of focus. My camera was in a huff for some reason.

Mr Mac is convinced it is a rare wild orchid. Can anyone shed any light on what it might be?

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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

Mr Mac hits the rocks!

Mr Mac has always been an admirer of alpines. He has mentioned once or twice how he would like to create a rockery somewhere in the garden but until now there was nowhere suitable.

Recently, Mr Mac and his friend attended an auction at a builders yard. The builder in question had gone bust and Mr Mac and his friend had gone with the intention of bidding on a JCB mini-digger. They were unsuccessful. Undeterred, Mr Mac was determined not to come home empty handed and managed to negotiate a deal on numerous lengths of wood and a selection of sinks.

There was so much wood, it merits its own blog. As for the sinks, there was one Belfast sink, three stone troughs and the remainder looked as if they came from the toilet scene in Trainspotting. (I am not actually convinced they are sinks…..if you follow!).

The wood is under the blue tarpaulin, the dubious "sinks" can be seen in the foreground.

The wood is under the blue tarpaulin, the dubious “sinks” can be seen in the foreground.

The four useable sinks were earmarked for alpines, as soon as drainage holes were put in. Fortunately, this coincided with an online offer of 12 ground cover perennials for £3.99….so we ordered two, only to realise when they arrived they were alpines! I also treated Mr Mac to a selection of alpines for his birthday along with a book (Alpines An Essential Guide by Michael Mitchell). So he was all set………….

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Many, many weeks later, while tidying up the driveway with a mini-digger (hired for the weekend…..oh, the irony!) the end of the side border, which was a jungle of eight years worth of weeds, shrubs and goodness knows what else, was dug out and scraped back to the soil. Mr Mac rotivated it and continued the wooden edging (guess where the wood came from?) along to the end. He increased the height at the very end so that he could create a rockery.

Before

Before

After

After

Yesterday he spent most of the day moving boulders, rocks and stones and creating mini-Alps. Then off to the garden centre for some grit. I think you’ll agree the end result is stunning.

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The plants used are Pratia, Erodium, Heleniathemum, Thymus Serpylium, Sedum Spureum, Campanula Carpatica, Dianthus Deltoide, Aster Alpinas, Papaver Pacino, Saxifrage (Silver Cushion), Silene, Oxalis, Saxifrage (Peter Pan), Acquilegia, Viola and Lewisia.

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But guess what? He used all the plants he had so now he will have to go and buy some more for the stone troughs! And he has the cheek to moan about how many handbags I have………….

Help! We’re under attack!

Last year followers will recall around this time of year (perhaps slightly earlier) something ate our garden. The tulips were eaten or the bulbs pulled out and the raspberry canes were stripped from the ground up to about one metre.

This year, at the end of March, we noticed something was scratching away the grass leaving holes and unsightly bare patches. Then the tulips started to disappear again. However, Mr Mac had taken no chances with his raspberry canes and they were well protected with mesh. The last straw was when the brand new strawberries were eaten.

This is the grass in the back garden which has been scratched away leaving big holes.

This is the grass in the back garden which has been scratched away leaving big holes.

Tulip bulbs pulled out of the bed

Tulip bulbs pulled out of the bed

the primulas were pulled out of the pot but were not eaten.

The primulas were pulled out of the pot but were not eaten.

Two huge holes were dug among the lilies but again, these were not eaten.

Two huge holes were dug among the lilies but again, these were not eaten.

Frustrated, I consulted the font of all knowledge – Google – with a search of “what eats tulips?” The answer………….chipmunks! “How cute”, I thought, my sole experience of chipmunks being the animated kind that have wild, wacky adventures of the non-destructive kind. The only problem is we don’t have chipmunks in the UK!

However, neighbours had been suffering similar problems and after blaming the deer, squirrels, pheasants and pigeons, a badger was spotted leaving our drive early one morning. So Mr Mac promptly went to the agricultural supplies and bought a mile of mesh to attach to the stob and wire fence which surrounds our garden. Our garden is now badger proof – hopefully – we just need to remember to shut the gate at night! Apparently they can dig under fences and climb walls.

The attraction? According to the Badger Trust, “Badgers digging for insect larvae in lawns can cause significant damage. Some lawns are more likely to support a significant insect larvae burden than others, and this is often determined by the condition of the lawn. Lawns in good condition, particularly if they are well drained and free of moss, are less likely to suffer.”

The condition of our lawn has been causing us concern for some time and as it is currently 80% moss / 20% grass, it must be badger paradise!

We left a booby-trapped pot of old tulip bulbs from last year to see if they were still being eaten but it looks like we have solved the problem as there has been no further damage since the mesh was added to the boundary fence.

The booby-trap!

The booby-trap!

But then…….

I was positive the other evening when I shut the greenhouse for the night I had three sunflowers which had germinated but the next morning there were only two. Then when I opened up a couple of mornings later, all the zinnia seedlings had been eaten leaving only stalks. Now something is in the greenhouse eating the seedlings…….likely culprits are either mice or earwigs so I am keeping everything covered just to be sure.

What is left of the zinnia seedlings

What is left of the zinnia seedlings

To add insult to injury, yesterday when wondering around the garden I came across not just one but TWO slugs. They were promptly dispatched. These battles may have been won but I fear the war is going to be a long one!

Jobs for March

The more alert among you may have noticed that we are approximately two-thirds of the way through March. However, I have two excuses. The first is that the Central belt of Scotland is at least a fortnight behind the south of England when it comes to all matters of the garden variety and the second is…..IT IS STILL SNOWING!!!!!!

The snowdrops have now “dropped” and the daffodils, tulips, crocus and hellebores are thinking WTF? I did manage to tidy my brassicas and start planting some seeds  but other than wandering aimlessly around the garden, wrapped up like the Michelin man and leaning at a jaunty angle into the wind….not much has been happening.

So here is what should be happening this month…

  • Spread compost thinly over soil as a mulch to give it a kick start. We actually managed to do this, the reason being Mr Mac needed to turn the compost and we had to get rid of the stuff that was ready to use. Needless to say, Mr Mac still has not turned the rest!
  • Sow fast salad leaves. I have also managed to do this in a pot in the greenhouse, although the seeds took 10 days to germinate rather than the two or three days in the summer.
  • Deadhead pansies and primroses. I have a 100% failure rate on this. The pesky sheep that got into the garden ate all the pansies and the primroses I bought as plugs last summer have yet to flower!
  • Start to sow hardy annuals outdoors.…no chance.
  • Move summer flowering shrubs that are in the wrong place and lift and divide border perennials. We would but we can’t find them yet!
  • Start warming the soil for vegetables by covering with a cloche or polythene.
  • Start chitting seed potatoes. Almost. We have been to the garden centre and bought seed potatoes but they are still in the garage.
  • Rake up leaves, spike the lawn, clean troughs and containers, clean greenhouse glass to maximise sunlight, sharpen tools, stock up on compost and tidy, tidy, tidy and weed, weed, weed.
  • Plant onions, shallots, summer cauliflowers and jerusalem artichokes and sow parsnips.
  • Force rhubarb and prune gooseberries and blueberries.

Last year for the first time I planted purple sprouting brocolli and I believe it should be ready about now. However, while they have started to grow, they are still only about 15-20cm high. I am not sure what to expect so if anyone can enlighten me it would be greatly appreciated.

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My leeks are doing well. They have taken a growth spurt in the last few weeks and should be on their way to the soup pot very soon!

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Today happens to be the Spring Equinox, the day when day and night are equal and from here on we will be bathed in sunlight. I can’t help but be an optimist and sense that all this late snow means we are in for a long, hot summer…..bring it on!

 

The highs, lows and lessons learned in 2012

Well what a year it has been. Officially the wettest ever in the UK! However, even though I am relatively new to this gardening lark I have a sneaky feeling that it would not matter what the year brought, gardeners are a fickle breed and there will always be something to complain about…..too dry, too wet, wrong kind of sunshine etc etc.

As regards my own experience, this is how I would sum it up…..

The low points

  • Most recent has to be Christmas dinner. Brussel sprout seeds were planted on 24 February and the plants produced barely enough for me, Mr Mac and little sis for our Christmas dinner. As for the parsnips, the seeds never even germinated due to the rain.
  • The crazy weather in the spring resulted in me losing all my tomato plants and set me back 7 weeks.
  • Okra was something new I decided to try this year, along with aubergines. It was too cold for the okra and although the aubergine plants did eventually produce two fruits, it was not until October and the cold killed them before they had the chance to mature.
  • Other than the Earlies grown in tubs in the greenhouse, the potatoes were a total disaster – if the slugs did not get them, the blight did!
  • The early frost got the blossom and so there were virtually no plums, pears or apples. Only one apple crumble has been made and NO cider at all!
  • Losing all the tulips in one night. This was particularly upsetting as we had planted up loads of pots and protected them all winter. Then one night, just as they were all about to flower, something came along and ate them. The jury is still out on whether it was the deer, pigeons, pheasants or squirrels.
  • Slugs – they just ate everything.
  • I am going to be predictable here….the weather! It was just pants.

The high points

  • Some of the flowers were exceptional this year, especially the acquilegia, echinacea, alliums, lillies and sunflowers.
  • Growing things in pots – early peas, carrots, butternut squash, spring onions and sunflowers.
  • The start of the hard landscaping at the bottom of the garden and the beautiful new paths Mr Mac started to build.
  • The greenhouse made from a conservatory rescued from a skip in Edinburgh.
  • Mr Mac’s portable fruit cage (although the netting needs some fine tuning!).
  • Having tried for 3 years, finally getting a bumper crop of chillies.
  • It was a brilliant year for soft fruits which obviously loved the rain.
  • Free seeds courtesy of Amateur Gardening magazine. I grew things I would not have thought of growing before…so thank you AG!
  • Starting my Blog….and thank you for reading and keeping me company!

Ten Lessons learned

  1. Label, label, label! Even though when you plant something in the ground it is obvious where it is (and what it is) YOU WON’T REMEMBER! Stick a label in the ground.
  2. Don’t be in a hurry to get all seeds sown as early as you can. Seeds sown later will catch up and there is less risk of losing them to frost.
  3. Keep a note of what is annual, perennial, bi-annual etc. To my cost I discovered I had pulled out a whole load of plants I thought were annuals when they finished flowering and it turns out they were perennials…oops!
  4. A lesson learned from 2011 was to put lots of drainage in the bottom of tomatoes. I filled my specially made troughs with lots of stones but now we can’t move the troughs to get rid of the spent soil as they are too heavy. All the soil will have to be scooped out by hand!
  5. Take out subscriptions to gardening magazines. Look out for deals like 5 issues for £5 (to see you over the summer) or my best find was half price Amateur Gardening magazine with free seeds every week from March to September.
  6. Bubble wrap is excellent to stop pots cracking from frost.
  7. Use Freecycle to get rid of plants or gardening items you no longer want or to acquire things you need.
  8. There is no point being a control freak and fighting mother nature…you will only lose!
  9. Don’t be lazy. If it is dry and you have weeds to hoe or plants to get in the ground DO IT NOW. You don’t know when you will get another chance.
  10. Plant little and often. I am constantly tormented by the thought that nothing will germinate and then it will be too late to start again. I end up with gluts of everything that have to be used within a short period of time. There are only so many vegetables you can force upon your neighbours!

For 2013 I am creating a sister blog….ayearinmygarden2013…where I plan to photograph the garden transforming over the year. I’ll still be here though and hope you will join me for another gardening year.

For now though I would like to wish you all a very happy, dry, sunny new year!

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If Noah had a garden……

…..do you think it would have looked like this?

 

 

 

 

Or this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gardeners in the UK will  relate to my plight. For those elsewhere in the world, this is not just another Brit moaning about the weather. Record after record has been broken since April and today was just one downpour too far for my already waterlogged garden. There has been so much rain that I have not needed to water any plants outside since May! After this afternoon’s deluge, what the slugs had not eaten has been washed away. Underneath the water in the photo are livingstone daisies, snap dragons and california poppies.

Apparently it is all down to the jet stream being in the wrong place but if you are to believe the weather forecasters it is on its way back to where it should be and things should be back to normal soon. For central Scotland that means humid drizzle and frizzy hair!

On the plus side we have harvested and eaten the first early potatoes. Having read the books, when first earlies flower, that is the time to dig them up. However, we waited and waited and they never flowered. The stems went yellow and fell over so we decided to see what was underneath.

The main crop tatties are in bags in the garden and are currently being decimated by slugs….but that’s a whole other blog, dear readers!

My experiment to have early carrots and petit pois worked and both crops have been eated and frozen respectively. Unfortunately, the second lot of carrot seeds I planted seemed to stop growing when they got to about 1cm high and as I have not got round to planting some more I now find myself having a bit of a carrot shortage. The peas outside are flowering so hopefully there should be more of them soon.

The spinach and pak choi were great but lack of maintenance meant they went to seed before we could eat it all.

Outside we have started to pick raspberries but as I write, the strawberries are under water! The blackcurrants and gooseberries should be ready for picking this weekend – jamtastic!

My first head of cauliflower has formed and there have been some small spears of brocolli. I need to research how you are supposed to pick  grow brocolli because mine just seems to flower immediately before an actual head forms. It’s tasty all the same. If anyone can help, please tell me where I am going wrong.

And finally, I have three tomatoes! In recent years we always started eating tomatoes around mid-June. Now we are half-way through July and look at how far behind we are. I am looking forward to my first roast cherry tomato and spaghetti supper.

 

 

 

Lessons learned in April

As April comes to an end I cannot believe I am writing this post sitting in front of the fire. I should be digging (pardon the pun!) out my shorts and SPF15! However, that happened in March and then they were swiftly put away again.

The weather has gone crazy. Three consecutive days of record breaking weather in March lulled us all into a false sense of security. April followed with double the amount of average rainfall and way below average temperatures. Not good news for my plants.

The good things…

After a false start, I have lots of flower seedlings which I am starting to harden off. So far I have sweet peas, livingstone daisies, cosmos, rudbeckia, coreopsis, gazania, silver dust, marigolds, snap dragons, morning glory, aster, Iceland poppies, ladybird poppies, petunia, diascia, gaillardia, sanvitalia, black eyed susan and zinnias.

On the veg front the early peas and carrots are coming along, as are the first early potatoes and leeks. The first lettuce leaves should be ready to eat in a couple of weeks and the pak choi won’t be far behind.

Outside I have managed to plant some more peas and some beetroot and parsnips.

The blossom on the cherry trees was amazing, the aubretia plugs I bought last year are still flowering, as are the hellebores, the acquilegia grown from seed last year is about to flower and the oriental poppies are about to come out. So despite no tulips there is still a lot of colour in the garden.

The not so good…

The cold, wet weather has really affected the fruit and veg seedlings. The 2 melon plants and 4 okra plants don’t seem to have grown at all this month and despite putting 2 of the courgette plants into growbags they seem to be rotting at the roots. The aubergine, chilli and tomato plants all look healthy enough but don’t seem to be getting any bigger and some of the brassicas have keeled over from the root. This is either due to over or under watering during the really hot spell in March or a condition called “damping-off”.

some of the brassicas have just keeled over!

I also managed to kill my sweet basil and lemon basil last week when I split it up into individual pots. I thought I was being clever by separating the individual plants but what I should have done is just separate it in clumps and put them in larger pots. I have started again!

Despite the appalling weather we actually got quite a lot done outside. Phase II of the path network is complete, one veggie patch prepared and put into use, the second veggie patch should be ready shortly, some shrubs were relocated, summer bulbs and tubers planted, millions of pots, trays and modules washed with water and bleach and the raspberry canes covered with nets. And, of course, weeding, weeding and then some more weeding!

Lessons learned in April:

  1. Even if tender plants are kept in the greenhouse, if a cold night is forecast, don’t water them all at 7pm. I did this, the temperature plummeted to -4 degrees and the water froze and killed the plants.
  2. When potting on basil, separate seedlings in clumps, NOT by individual plants. They will just die and you will have to start again. Alternatively, just sow a few seeds in the pot they will stay in so they don’t have to be disturbed at all.
  3. Put a marker in the ground where you plant bulbs and tubers so you know where they are.
  4. Be prepared for heartbreak! If a pheasant decides it is going to eat all of your chard, tulips and raspberry canes there is very little you can do to stop it.
  5. Cats appreciate freshly dug earth. Not all clumps of earth are what they seem…
  6. If, like me, to save space you sow 2 different types of seeds in the one seed tray, check the estimated germination time for each seed is roughly the same. Don’t do what I did and sow cosmos seeds beside verbena seeds. Estimated germination time for cosmos is 7-14 days. Estimated germination time for verbena…..2-3 MONTHS!
  7. A cup of tea and sticky bun at 3pm and a pint of cider with lots of ice at 6pm keeps Mr Mac happy while he digs.

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.

 

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!