Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Odds and ends

A lot more seeds are coming up now - I think I'm most chuffed with the echium, since I love them so much. They're great in containers because they actually prefer to be pretty dry.

I began this afternoon (was busy otherwise in the morning) by starting to clear the patio. I don't use weed-killer on it so I weed it by hand and I'm fastidious. I know my husband finds the effort I put into this amusing and to be honest it is a bit daft but there you go.

As part of this I also weed all the patio pots, move them and clean underneath, and so on. As I was emptying one big pot I must have knocked the switch for the pond pump next to it. I have half an ear on the outflow all the time now (after last summer's disaster) so I was shocked and worried when it stopped, before I twigged what had caused it! But this put me in mind that I needed to begin clearing out the filter chamber.

Cleaning the filter is a piggy job, with one saving grace. The water flows through 4 different compartments, with filter medium of increasing fineness. The work is actually done by microorganisms that live on the medium, so when we clean it out, we do it one chamber per day, so as not to remove all the necessary good bugs. Therefore I get fairly messy over 4 days, rather than totally disgusting in 1!

I'm intending to post some pictures of the garden tomorrow. My father-and-step-mother-in-law are coming to visit for Easter and they like gardening, so I'm looking forward to showing it all to them. It's good to have a fixed point to aim for.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rose pruning

Today I pruned nearly all of the roses. Aimee Vibert, Ophelia, Picture, Margaret Merrill and x Richardii are all done; the big original one remains to do. I'm leaving the dog rose, the field rose and the two climbers at the front for the time being.

PS in case you're wondering - no, this didn't take all that long, although I did get the shredder out and deal with all the prunings and so on. The roses havent' been done properly before... ever. But mainly I was ill, which is minor but that's why I spent a lot of time reading (Real England by Paul something)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Even quicker!

Today I weeded the pea bed. (We were busy for a lot of the day with other things.) It's just under 11 degrees indoors at the moment, so we're warming ourselves in the mental glow of saved pennies and carbon units!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Quick note

Just a quick note, since I did say it would be daily...

Today I was in Crawley for an OU tutorial, so I walked through the main park. This has some very good planting in it: lots of shrubs and so on all done so as they feel really satisfying through the year. The parks in Crawley are pretty special to be honest - one day I'll show some pictures of Tilgate park, where they have everything a park should have. Today I mainly noticed the magnolia stellata's - very strikingly placed each one beside a bigger evergreen, which showed them off beautifully.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


A lot of the vegetable seeds I'm growing don't seem to be well known. This could be because they come from here:


I realise they're not the cheapest around, but I like their approach. I'm a bit of an idealist. I'd rather go without a few nights out and get my stuff from people I feel sympathy with.


Today I potted up 32 seedlings of tomato Grushovka. Hmmm. Not sure what I'll do with that lot - or more particularly, with the total of nearly 100 tomato plants I'm going to end up with! I'm hoping to sell some of them, but I know it's the kind of thing loads of people have a surplus of. We'll see.

It is blackthorn by the way - in my post below - and it's my favourite thing in the garden at the moment. I must move the hyacinths from in front of it though. They're white too so they don't clash that way, but it makes them look dumpy and artificial, and they make its airy, fragile blossom look too diffuse.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Good to be back

I'm back again after a nice weekend away visiting and a day doing written work, and it does feel good to be in the garden again.

The photo is of the blossom on one of the treelets I planted about 5 years ago. They form a tiny stretch of mixed native hedge. I used the plant postcode database to select them: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/life/plants-fungi/postcode-plants/ It was an idea suggested to me by one of my favourite gardening books, English Plants for Your Garden. It's been a 100% success - these trees are droughtproof, windproof, and have loads of insects and so on on them without getting eaten in an unsightly way. I wish I had more space for them.

Today I prepared one of the vegetable beds and sowed mixed lettuces, turnips, lamb's lettuce, cabbages and rocket. I also mowed the lawn. I see that candytuft and some naturtiums have germinated, and allyssum, and that the crambe cordifolia is growing again. I must put a slug trap out for it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Pond

Someone asked whether we have fish in the pond. You bet we do! We inherited 4 koi in our previous house, and we grew very fond of them, so we made a pond here.

We wanted a depth of nearly 5 feet for protection from heron. We tried digging the hole ourselves but it began to fill with water very quickly and frankly was jolly hard work. We got a builder in; I assumed he'd use a machine but he sent a man with a spade and a wheel-barrow! Said man worked like a trojan and in 2 days excavated a hole so neat it looked like something computer-generated on screen.

The hole was 5 feet deep; the pond is now a little less because of its linings: first sand, then old carpet, then heavy butyl liner. There is a shelf for marginal plants along the long edge, and the liner rises and dips again beyond that to make a marsh strip. A filter keeps the water fairly clean and oxygenated. Neither our dog nor our cat have disturbed the fish; we have seen heron visit the garden (an awesome sight!) but the fish have not been killed or injured by them.

Our set-up is a compromise: it's not the koi enthusiast's ideal, because we have plants in, we allow frogs etc (which can bring parasites), and we rarely use chemicals in it. It works very well, in our eyes. There was a major problem last year when I didn't report to my husband in time that the filter pump had stopped working. Half the fish died from lack of oxygen. I later learned that fish live much closer to the margin of feasibility, in terms of how they breathe, than we do, and so oxygenation is a key point. I still remember lifting out the dead fish each time I go near the pond, but I hope this will lessen.

I absolutely love the pond. I wish we could have a waterfall but I understand this is not easily arranged because of technical problems (essentially the filter chamber is configured wrongly for that to work, it's hard to see how we could have one without replacing the whole system which would be daft).

Progress up hill.

Another lovely sunny day that saw me in a foul mood for no reason. Doing anything feels like peddling a bike with the brakes full on, but I got a fair bit done.

I went up the street to the local hardware shop (a fantastic place that sells everything) and bought a 10l top up of seed compost. Not cheap but I buy something there fairly often on the "use it or lose it" principle.

I fed the conservatory plants with the new stuff I'd bought. It doesn't go as far as I thought - their definition of a standard watering can is half the size of our two main ones, which I don't think of as super-sized!

Then I cleared the lawn, and settled down to sowing. I sowed one pot each of things; if/when they come up, I'll sow more. Heartsease, campanula pixie blue, alyssum, statice, echium, nepeta, crambe cordifolia (AKA slug banquet), candytuft, black poppies (I adore these but they failed last time, suspect theyre dead and they should be sown in situ I know), godetia, night-scented stock, white snapdragons, and cornflowers. These seeds are between 3 and 6 years old, it amazes me they work at all. So far the best have been morning glories and snapdragons.

I dug up a dead acanthus mollis. The crown is brown, rotting and smelly. I couldn't see anything in the soil but I dug up a fair bit and have put it in the landfill bin, not the council compost one. I'm a bit worried about this. It's right next to where the privet hedge died. We replanted that last autumn with hornbeam, and every single one has taken and is in bud - nearly in leaf. Nothing else near seems affected. I hope it's nothing serious. We have an acanthus at that front that is very successful; the two I planted on this other site never came to anything.

I sorted out the canes - this took ages. Then I planted a row of 9 sweet peas along the back of the bed where the acanthus died. They are a potential-suicide squad: I will see how they get on. I put beer traps out for the slugs.

Tomorrow I'm away for the week-end again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

a nothing day

Today I'm feeling pretty down, and as a result - or maybe it's the other way round - I've done nothing in the garden. I opened up the greenhouse, enjoyed the sunshine, watered some trays, and thinned some more snapdragons. But nothing else. For no reason. But tomorrow will be better.

Ah - one thing - we went shopping to Homebase, and I bought some plant food for the houseplants. This was because I read of Bob's feeding his at work and reckoned it would be a good idea. Ours are in a sorry state, (they haven't been fed since I bought them, up to 6 years ago) so I think they'll be very grateful to him!

Oooh - PS, some good news I had forgotten. I have a miserable collection of plants in pots that I found when weeding the borders, bought by me in afluent times but too lazy and stupid to plant several years ago. I couldn't bring myself to throw them out, so I weeded the tops, put them in a nice sunny place, and kept an eye on them - and now 4 out of 6 are showing signs of life! These are two phloxes and two astilbes. The two still asleep/dead are achilieas, to there's time yet for them to wake up too, perhaps.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I confess: this picture is not of our garden, and I haven't spoken to the owner either... But I took the photo from the pavement and I'm not saying where it is, so I don't think that's a huge invasion of privacy. I think it's super. I love the tiny bit of grass! And it's fairly "real" too - you can see roses and delphiniums ready to take over later.

Well, back at the ranch. Yesterday I tidied the conservatory. There was, ahem, quite some scope for this. During most of the year this is our main living room, but it does tend to accumulate stuff in transit to other places (the garage, the utility, the dump...)

We had beautiful sunshine yesterday, same today, and it's set to continue for several days! I'm so happy about that.

The cucumbers I sowed only 4 days ago are now nearly an inch tall.

I spent ages thinning snapdragon seedlings. In future I must mix them with sand I think. I also thinned some mystery seeds I collected a couple of years back but forgot to label. They germinated fantastically - wonder what they'll turn out to be? I find thinning a tiring job though.

Today I sowed "Milkmaid" nasturtiums, although I find these plants always seem to grow better when self-seeded. If I'm organised this year I'm going to sow some annuals in the autumn, since that's what "nature" does and I have a feeling it may work well. They'll probably have to be in the highly unnatural environment of indoors though.

I also sowed Golden Sweet yellow-podded mangetout, Bleu de Solaise leeks, Sanda brussels sprouts, Ishikura Long White bunching onions, and Nero di Toscana tuscan kale. I sowed the finer seeds with great care, my experience of thinning filling my mind!

[Quick note: a few days ago we bought some unpasteurised milk from a farm about 2 miles away, and it tastes wonderful - if you get the chance and you're not in vulnerable health, do try it.]

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Today my husband did lots in the garden too. He strimmed all the edges - this is quite a job given that the garden is rather bitty and complicated. He also put up a new temporary fence. And then he read and kept me company. We had lunch outside for the first time this year.

I cleared and mowed the lawn. It lookes much, much better for it, with the edges done too. I took photos of the whole garden (not pretty ones, just as a record). I sowed 2 trays of echium - a bombproof plant I love. The first vinca flower is out.

And I took a photo of this butterfly.

A garden pay-back day, it was wonderful.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Slugs slogged

I can inform you that low alcohol beer is both appealing and fatal to slugs. The count from my 2 littls traps this morning was 16, in each one. I'm pleased I caught them, but I'm surprised there were so many about already.

This little victory aside, it was a day of small jobs. I cleared the lawn, thinned my celery seedlings, and prepared a new set of 3 pots to go on the patio table. I'll add a photo of these soon - I left my camera plugged into the computer by mistake and it lost its charge.

I went to the nearest mini garden centre. They have several types of euphorbia I would dearly love. I don't like being a fan of such trendy plants but then that in itself is a naff way to look at it really. I bought a little hyacinth though called Woodstock, a purple colour and an amazing scent, I'll try to get some of them to plant later.

Oh and another good thing: I found a peony. I was fearing that either Pippa had kicked its shoots off or it had died but in fact I had buried it under the mulch of compost I added a weeks or so ago. I carefully moved this a little to the side, since I vaguely remember peonies are not suppposed to be buried too deeply. This is a pink one; my favourite, a white, did die about 3 years ago. I would love another.

I was thinking of going to Kew as I pass through London this Friday but I see entrance costs £13! Worth it for a full day maybe but only in the main growing season. This is a shame because Kew would be nicest to me out of it, to see things in the glasshouses.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A few more seeds

This was a shorter day in the garden because I had list-making and shopping to do.

I turned the very last of the compost - as expected, there was more space after it had settled over night.

I tied in my sweet peas. There was a slight nibble of damage to one of the leaves so I put out slug traps. The beer is low-alcohol, because it was cheapest: I hope the slugs get drunk enough!

Then I moved all the tomatoes and celery into a normal propagator, since they'd germinated well. I sowed Miniature White Cucumbers, more Telephone peas, and some mixed stocks. I'd prefer to sow flowers of single colours but I'm not buying any new flower seed this year. This packet said sow by 2006 but I find they come up pretty well despite that.

The indoor jasmine has just started to flower and the scent is intoxicating.

And a couple of white hyacinths are blooming, so here's a photo of one. The geranium behind is one of my favourite plants. I love cranesbills - their habit, their foliage, and their resiliance. This one flowers a beautiful blue colour and looks lovely with the pink rose above (Gentle Hermione). Sadly the stachys that was so nice near them gave up the ghost, I think it found the soil too heavy. I know I could change this but I'd rather plant more stachys in a drier part of the garden, I don't like trying to change the world too much for plants (unless they're pinks, for whose scent I do almost anything!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reclaiming ground for a potato patch

I began the day as usual: even before I put the kettle on, still in my dressing-gown, checking my seedlings. Lots of tomatoes have come up, and celery, and more snapdragons and peas and beans. Fantastic!

After too much fiddling about indoors, I turned the compost heap. This was really tiring and I had to do it in three stints.

Then I turned my attention to where I'd like to grow potatoes. Ideally I'd have sorted this out earlier, but there's been such a backlog of major clearing to do that this is the soonest I found I could get to it.

This is how it started off:

I put all the clobber elsewhere - chicken wire, piles of sticks, old incinerator, and plastic cold frame. I lifted some stones and bricks out and kept them handy because they were part of The Plan. I found a toad and many toadlets and took a tea break while they hid themselves again. Then I spread compost over the area I will be planting in:

I covered it with weed-proof fabric. This wasn't the right shape so I had to cut it about a bit, and then weigh it down with the bits of brick. Finally I put some old compost bags down on the areas that will be path, since I want to be able to lift the weedproof in a couple of weeks, and covered the bags with bark.

Seen from the other end:

When I think of the scale on which my father plants potatoes... - he'd cover more than half our total garden! Last year he lost the lot because he accidentally got weed-killer on them. Being pretty much organic, that's one problem I should be without.

PS the shrubs along the back are a ribes, a kerriea, an evergreen, a hibiscus which I love, and a potentilla.

PPS for anyone craving some colour at the moment, I've just seen this posting from "My Mother's Garden", especially the third picture down - I love the profusion, and the height.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Still away

Hello all - I''m not really here! I'm changing my desk around and can't type properly. I hope to read blogs and post again tomorrow. E

Monday, March 9, 2009

The end of the beginning

Today I weeded most of the remaining large bed. Despite nice enough weather it was cold and the bed is hard work, weeding underneath and round roses and digging out our friend, the bindweed.

Pippa kept me company.

One of my next jobs is going to be to prune the roses. This is one of my favourites (I find it very hard to choose) - it's a dark red, with a gorgeous perfume, and flowers from about July onwards until the frost. I tried to move it a few years ago but the roots were amazing! It is one of the few plants in the garden from before we came which I love, the others being the apple trees and a white spirea.

And this frogspawn has appeared in the pond.

Bob asked whether we have fish - yes. Maybe I'll talk about them tomrrow, since it's forecast to be wet.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Much better!

Today was a far better day in the garden. Only the morning was fine, but that was OK because the rain was forecast and I had things planned.

First thing, I went out with Pippa on the lead for a quiet browse at other people's front gardens. The nicest are nearly always outside bungalows. My favourite was a corner plot, with lawn surrounded by a wavy-edged bed of shrubs, including interesting small ones, - not many bulbs, and lots of space with promising looking sprouting perenials. I'll be back there in a few weeks'.

Then I weeded at the front, since it faces north-east. There's gratifyingly little to do at the moment, more bits of litter blown in than weeds, just a few dandelions. Everything doing well.

I took this rather poor snap, through the water, of a frog in the pond - or is it a toad? Either way, I love its being there. It feels like a natural approval of the pond we made.

For good measure, here's one of Velvet and Pippa together. This is the first time they have sat so close of their own accord. You can see Pippa making herself as small-looking as an Irish Setter can be, so as not to scare off her favourite friend!

Then I tidied up a bit in the conservatory and shuffled a few seed-trays around. In the last of the sun, with the greenhouse doors open, I sowed our tomatoes: Latah, Grushovka and Millefleur, each in half-trays to go in the magic box (heated propagator). Then I sowed pots of marigolds, pots of black hollyhocks, and a whole tray of gyspohila. PS also larkspur.

While I was showing things off to my husband he noticed a shoot coming up from one of the beans, thank goodness. They and the peas are taking their time.

I didn't blog yesterday because I did very little in the garden. We were busy though: we sorted out our jars. We have loads and loads of these and I don't think they've ever been sorted thoroughly before. We used them for putting homemade produce in (jams, pickles, dried herbs, spice mixture etc) and also because we find they are one of the few things mice can't eat through. This picture shows less than half of them!

The other big event yesterday was a garden visitor I hadn't seen before: a sparrowhawk. Not good for song-birds, I know, but a beautiful and moving sight even so. (This picture is by my husband and actually shows the bird in next door's garden.)

Friday, March 6, 2009


An annoying day. Sunshine wasted on loads of housework, shopping, washing and tidying, nothing at all in the garden except for some clearing of dog mess and tidying of the patio.

But it was fun to pick hellebore flowers and arrange them on a plate with candles, and the forecast for the next couple of days has improved.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Garage and hellebores

Today we mainly worked on the garage. There's still a good bit of work to do - my husband spent a while fixing holes in the roof today. Yesterday, when I took a load of stuff to the tip (real rubbish, containers that mice had eaten through) I was as ever amazed by what people were throwing away. This time I snaffled two perfect children's size wooden chairs, which I intend to put some wood preserver on and tuck in a hidden corner of the garden. A bit naff I know, but to my mind they'll look very sweet. It's nooks and crannies like that which really appeal to me in other people's gardens too.

Yesterday I also put 3 sweet peas in a very large pot, in good compost, to keep in the conservatory. I wonder how soon these will flower? It faces south-west. They're about 6 inches tall now. My mother-in-law is visiting in early May and loves sweet peas, but I suspect that's a bit of a tall order.

This afternoon I potted up properly some hellebore seedlings from the front. Maybe I could swap them with someone at some stage.

Tomorrow will be a big day in the garden. Sun is forecast, and they've been a lot more accurate in the last couple of weeks. I intend to go all out to finish the last bed, which is big and a right mess, and if there's any time left, tidy up the patio a bit too, which will be a much smaller job. But we have friends over for dinner and need to do our weekly shop too. I'm really looking forward to getting out there, have the alarm already set for 7 (my husband, an owl to my lark, wouldn't thank me for setting it any earlier).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

All very springy

I didn't post on here yesterday because I did very little in the garden that day. I went into London to see friends and took the opportunity to walk through St James's Park, eager to see what a big posh park could do at this time of year. It was rainy and blustery but I was delighted with what I saw - pictures over at http://whereeverythingelsegoes.blogspot.com/

Yesterday we had lots of rain which was very good timing for me: I'd just spread some lovely rich homemade compost all round the roses and peonies. I went to sleep listening to the wind rushing round the house, and then woke up to a beautiful sunny morning.

Today I played musical seed trays, shuffling everything round from heated propagator to conservatory, to greenhouse, to the Real World. The ones moving outdoors, which were sweet peas, had a right challenge almost straight away: a hail storm! They survived without injury though. I'm now hoping I've got them out and in the ground before the slugs and snails have really got on the move for the year. I will inspect tomorrow...

Monday, March 2, 2009

An important note

I called this blog "Emily's Garden" because from the beginning of this year, I've been in charge of it. In fact, two of us have put a lot of work into it over the years and I should make this clear.

My husband used to be in charge of the vegetables and the herbs. He did all the heavy and technical work, with me playing "builder's mate", on the pond, the raised beds, and the compost bins. He also had many key structural ideas for the garden, such as putting in the tunnel down the side of the garage, and training the holly trees into an arch over it.

These days he is busy with other projects (particularly music). We have discovered that I work better when I'm solely in charge of something, and can feel more proud of it. Hence "Emily's Garden", but really that is a misnomer.

The best bit of each day is showing him what I have done, and knowing that whether it's big or small he will enjoy it because I do.

The beginning of the end of major weeding...

Another beautiful day of sunshine.

Some of the morning glory seeds that I sowed the day before yesterday have germinated. This is partly due to having soaked them, but mainly the heated propagator, which is just magical! It was a present from my father about 2 years ago; it's a huge one, because I was so pleased with the small one we had already. The only thing is to try to strike a balance between things drying out in it, or getting mouldy.

I put loads of compost round the roses and peonies.

Then I started the last big area of weeding. There will be more to do but that's either odd bits, or it's keeping up with things I've already done. So here is another of my customary before and after pairs:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More sowing, and some long-term photos

First, thank you all for your encouragement after my minor strop this morning. I don't get them often... honest guv!

Today I sowed the final lot of morning glory seeds (some very dark ones), and lots of snapdragons. I washed and set up the heated propagators for them. These are in the conservatory rather than the greenhouse, since it's much warmer in there.

We went to a garden centre, as a special treat for me. They're selling tiny little seedlings in special packaging, tender things that can't go outside for months, at £7.99 for 8. Ouch. I asked two ladies looking at them with me didn't they think that very expensive; they seemed not to. I went off boggling to myself. We bought seed compost and some seed potatoes.

Yesterday was the 6th anniversary of our moving in here, so here are a couple of pictures. The first isn't the earliest we have (it's from April 2003), but it's the one that shows the garden most fully. Building the pond was our first job, because we had fish to bring with us. You can also just see our first tiny veg bed, near the far shed.

What good does it do?

I was reading just now a post written by Weaver of Grass, about a train journey in China. It reminded me of the notes I made about travel in Sri Lanka a while back. I intended to write them up: my husband took some amazing pictures, and I planned to put the two together. I didn't get round to it.

My worst fear is of my metaphorical gravestone with the words, where my lifetime's achievement should be, "She didn't get round to it".

Suddenly furious, I ask myself what on earth good it does, all this stuff in the garden. Who cares whether this weed gets pulled up? It will only be back again tomorrow, or next week.

Last summer we tried to sell our house. I tidied up the garden as best I could in a few days, but of course doing it properly takes months and it wasn't terribly successful. But the estate agents hated what we'd done with the garden anyway. They didn't get the point at all. The large stretch of plain grass and two shrub beds that were here before would have been easier to sell.

If I make a huge effort with it, it will look amazing. As good as you see in magazine pictures. Is that what I'm aiming for? I don't buy magazines any more (unless you count the odd copy of Country Smallholding for a spot of fantasising).

And just as suddenly, I come to my senses again. Of course I don't do it for other people, beyond my husband. It's not about approbation and acknowledgement. It is a way of being, which is inseperable from doing.

It's good to create a wake behind you. If nothing else, it helps with the steering. But it won't last. Gardening has to be its own reward. One person more at peace with themselves, and doing very little harm to others, is the good it does. I feel part of it all, of everything around me.

"Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." Good.

And on that note, I'm off to turn the compost.