Thursday, 21 January 2016

Gardening thoughts for 2016

I've been busy not doing anything outdoors recently, which feels a little strange to be honest. The truth is, it's not the weather that's deterring me, it's the busyness of my work life and the other demands on life too. As I've mentioned before, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. 

You know the saying 'a change is as good as a rest'.

So, as I've been passing through the garden gates recently, particularly with the little extra brightness we're getting at the evenings, I've been cooking up some of my 2016 plans:

Reorganise my vegetable and fruit production area. I have a vision for what the veg area will look like, however, with poor soil and limited budget for the area, I'm going to reduce the area to a more manageable  size, focusing in on just a couple of larger crops and growing items of interest in some of my bigger tubs. 

The rhubarb provided nicely last year, as did the black currents. I am happy with my other fruit, there are about four nice loganberry plants, a good bunch of raspberry plants, one nice gooseberry and the grape vine too. I'd love to cover this area with netting, although I'm not sure how practical this is. I'm going to lift the strawberries and create something different with them, probably in the greenhouse.

Further down the garden, I have a big area of summer raspberries, that really don't work. They've been over run with scutch grass and are hard to maintain. So it makes sense to lift the best of these  canes, replant them in the smaller reorganised veg patch, and mow in the rest. As for the blackberry patch, that is more than wild, I think I'll eliminate them too as they're wild and unruly, and there are plenty of more of them growing in the hedgerows nearby.

In my main back garden, I'd love to redesign it, have a large circular area of grass, a series of three rose arches and include a water feature, with raised beds of Cotswold stone, all tied together with lovely cream gravel. 

Sounds delicious. 

The reality is though, not only would we have to get permission from the landlord, it would take substantial investment, and when we move, we won't be able to take it with us. For 2016, what I would like to do is to get creative in the space I do have, with materials that are there, and create a colourful interesting area of interest.

This brings me on to my collection of pots and containers. Honestly, even with the amount of colour and interest they brought last year, I think it will be more useful to be cleverer about what I want in 2016. 

Let me give you an example. 

In 2015 I had my Dahlias in pots. They were fine, although they ran out of steam at the end of the year. In 2016, I used crates to grow batches of Dahlia plants together, and the effects were unbelievable better, with solid blocks of colour making quite an impact. If I take this example and apply it to some of my other groupings of plants, such as my best Hostas and Hemerocallis, I think there would be an immense improvement in their impact. Similarly for my Fuchsia's, it might be useful to cut back on the range of varieties and concentrate on growing blocks of ones that give the best colour and interest. Hmmm ... not quite sure, I do like having a range and mix ...

And finally, my flowering containers at my front and back doors, I suspect there will be little change. Once we get to mid spring I'll be busy sowing and growing annuals (as well as purchasing some of the super container plants) in order to create a colour theme for 2016. Can't wait for this! 

In the meantime, I'll continue to do some armchair gardening, as time allows, and once we hit mid-February onwards, I'm going to try and ensure there is gardening time build into my busy weeks.

Let's dream on ... happy gardening.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Which way is up?

Such a simple question when it comes to bulbs, is which way is up. Well, if you want ot take the guess work out of it, Unwins, the seed, bulb and plant suppliers, have developed what they call 'bulb pads' for the planting of autumn bulbs, which takes the guess work away. 

'Offer you a bulb-layer pad mix for spring containers' was what the Unwins' Twitter message stated, and then asked them to be trialled and put links to their website ... hmmm ... let me think ... 

You see, it's not that I wasn't flattered, of course I was. However, there have been plenty of companies that have been in contact with me and asking me to sample their goods and blog about them. Although mostly I decline, this time I thought I'd try them, particularly as I had had some nice success with their seeds earlier in the summer. 

So, in due course a curious package arrived with my name on it. Contained within the package were some promotional material, a bonus packet of sweet pea seeds, and three round disks, each with a layer number on them, and the name of the bulbs. Layer one had Crocus, layer two had some Narcissus, and layer three had Tulips. There was also some writing stating which side was to be placed down. Now talk about taking the guess work out of which level to plant each layer, and the perennial question of which side is up. Of course the rest was simple. In mid November I set about the planting up task. I took an appropriate size pot with holes in it for drainage (one that could take the disks easily), some good compost with added grit and some crockery for drainage. 

" it answers one of the most common questions I was asked in my garden centring days by people buying bulbs - 'which way is up' "

Firstly, I placed a layer of crockery or stones in the bottom of the pot, about one inch (2.5cm) in depth. Next, I placed in the compost, mine is 45% multi-purpose, 45% sieved topsoil and 10% coarse grit. On this, the first bulb pad was placed. Then another layer of compost, and layer two of the bulbs, finished off with another layer of compost and the final layer of bulbs. I topped this lot off with a crown of compost, and it was done. 


The main benefit of this pack, from my point of view, is that it takes the guess work out of preparing a bulb container for spring. And, it answers one of the most common questions I was asked in my garden centring days by people buying bulbs - 'which way is up'. Although to the more experienced eye the answer is obvious, it can be quite intimidating to the adventurous novice when they first start out bulb planting. 

So, like any bulb container, once it's planted up, all we have to do is wait. At this point, in early January, the tips of the Crocus are showing through, and I expect we'll see the first signs of colour in about a months time. Don't worry if it's any sooner, you'll be the first to know!

In the meantime, I'm going to continue to clear and tidy in the garden, and pour over the seed booklets, plotting and planning the colour ahead for 2016. At the beginning of next month, just as the Crocus will be shining brightly, it will be full steam ahead on the sowing of seed (the Unwin's sweet pea included). 

Until then, happy gardening. 

Autumn 2015

'The only difference between this month and mid-Summer is the leaves turning and beginning to fall'. 
So said someone in a recent tweet. Of course they were referring to how mild the weather has been over September and October, and how well the tubs and baskets still look over, with plenty of the summer colour still in place. Over recent weeks, across the various social media platforms, there is an abundance of colour, where people are slow to throw out what is looking well in order to replace them with the autumn/ winter selection of plants now available. 

And I'm no different. 

The containers of colour I was writing about in July and August are as colourful as ever. And it's not due to my recent careful manicuring of them either! No, over recent weeks I've been very busy, with little time to give to the garden, and although there are definite autumn tinges now, the summer colour still prevails. How long will this continue? Well, there was talk of frost in the mid-lands, and with the longer nights, I expect we'll see the real winter cold within weeks. 

With this in mind, it is certainly time to plant up any remaining spring bulbs. Among other tasks to tend to, I have a nice bag of tulips to plant. So in order to get on with planting them, I have to discard some of the long lasting container summer colour. I can't say I'm unhappy about this, even though I want to get the best value from plants, to be honest I'm tired of looking at the same display that's been there since June. 

Now although I'm not a huge fan of planting colour at this time of year, I do like the odd spot of colour, so I'll visit the local garden centre this weekend and see what treats they have in store.

Happy gardening