Sunday, 29 January 2012

End of month miscellany

My potager in early summer 2011; it's development is still ongoing

With the mild weather we’ve had this January, I should have been out in the garden, titivating the potager and beginning yet another reclamation project of areas that escaped me last year. But circumstances have made this impossible, though I do enjoy our outdoor space every day when letting out, feeding and shutting in the hens. Crocuses and snowdrops already in flower, hellebores of various types with lime-green or deep purple buds ready to open, and the modest shrubby winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) releasing its delicious scent whenever I walk into the sheltered patch where it is growing.

A recap on this time last year - the wilderness from which the potager was created
Not too many weeds as yet in the potager beds; they’ll be quickly dealt with, and surprisingly, my policy of laissez-faire has meant I have had fresh rocket leaves all winter to add to sandwiches. And to think that this time last year the potager was  but a sketch on paper and did not even exist. A mass of pernicious perennial weeds and tangled overgrown shrubs, and not the sheltered haven it has become. I’m still developing it, not just the four raised beds but the wild-life friendly side areas that enclose it:  trees, shrubs and annual / perennial flowers, pots that hold bulbs and herbs, and wigwams to encourage climbers. 

My potager diary - recap from 2011
What better time of year as a gardener to begin afresh and create a mini-garden? Productive and decorative. My four raised beds are perfect, and I’ve acquired two more, to raise the height of two of them, so that I can grow a few early salad potatoes, and try parsnips and other root crops requiring a greater depth of soil than is possible at present. Time therefore to bring out my neglected potager diary and update it, create a new cropping plan – and order seeds and plants.

Long-tailed tits enjoying a feed
(taken through kitchen window)
I had thought that the proximity of so many bird-feeders would have caused problems, but it hasn’t, and the sheltering shrubs provide protection from the sparrow-hawk. And If I’m quick, there’s just time, for you as well – today (Sunday Jan 29th) – to take part in the RSPB ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’. Just an hour is all you need, and you can download a record sheet here. Get the children involved.

Committed fruit-growers will be interested in advice given by the RHS regarding the effect that the mild winter has had on hardy fruit plants that need a period of chilling during winter in order to encourage flowering. Without this cold effect evidence from previous years shows that crops may be reduced. “We have already seen buds on the trees beginning to swell,” says Jim Arbury, RHS Fruit and Trials Specialist.  He went on to say, “If gardeners have only one or two fruit bushes that have started filling their buds these can be covered with some horticultural fleece or an old curtain if it looks like there is going to be frost overnight.”

Click on any of the highlighted links within this blog to access Dobies online website (or direct to the RSBP for the bird record sheet).

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Red-White-and-Blue (and Rainbows, too)

This weekend's post as intended focuses on the Ornamental Garden, but is taking a little meander into June 2012 - the red-white-and-blue should give you a clue. The Queen's Jubilee, of course, and a coincidence. A flyer that arrived by email regarding Dobies plants available by post, coupled with news from our village flower show committee that we are to ‘have a bit of a do’, reminded me of previous royal occasions when villagers hung out flags, organized street parties, and the like.  With plants available in such patriotic colours, front gardens should offer a splendid tribute – a joyous celebration all summer; and one that assuredly will be duplicated all over the country.

Plant up your front border with a colour riot that could resemble the Union Jack, or fill pots and hanging baskets with a mix of plants, or single colours that might be even more dramatic. Here’s what is on offer: Geranium (pelargonium) St George (see photo above) is a two colour mix in fiery red and white-white, boasting large, weather-tolerant flowers and attractively zoned foliage. Ideal for patio containers or bedding, you can buy these as ‘easiplants’ with delivery late April, or ‘garden plants’ in late May. Easier to grow are Impatiens, also available in a blend of mainly red and white, as ‘miniplants’ in mid-April and ‘easiplants’ at the end of the month.

You'll also need blue flowers for your patriotic theme. There’s a choice: Ageratum ‘Blue Mist’ –  vigorous, spreading plants of level, compact growth which become clothed in clusters of mid-blue blooms, set off to great effect by the dark green foliage; superb for bedding and containers,  and available as ‘miniplants’ (late April), ‘easiplants’ in May, or ‘garden plants’ in late May. 

Lobelia ‘Crystal Palace’ has deep blue flowers with Compact bronze-leaved plants. Renowned for its performance throughout the summer months, lasting up to first frosts if it is kept well watered. Available as ‘miniplants’ or ‘easiplants’ in late April; the ‘miniplants’ are multi-sown and each plug contains approximately 3-4 seedlings. 

Or go for something quite different: the dramatic and spiky Salvia ‘Victorian Splendour’. Renowned since the Victorian era for the long-lasting displays it puts on in parks and gardens each summer, this gorgeous salvia creates a mesmerising show when planted en-masse, or amongst the red and white geraniums lists above. A bonus is that he narrow spikes of royal blue flowers are also excellent for cutting. Available as ‘pot-ready’ plants in late April.

Annuals grown from seed in an eco-friendly potager
Maybe you are not the patriotic type, or find red, white and blue somewhat too blatant and in any case prefer a mixed border of annuals. Choose from a selection of bedding annuals – mixed or otherwise – click here; or flowers for hanging baskets – click here; or sow some hardy annuals, really easy – click here for Dobies range of flower seeds.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Planning a Fruit Garden

Blossom from a Dobies 'Red Love' apple tree
Fruit is such a necessary ingredient to one's diet, yet it is expensive and that which you buy in the shops and supermarkets is rarely ripe and more often than not quite tasteless! Fitting suitable varieties into your garden or allotment space may take a little planning and re-organisation, yet it is perfectly possible. Obviously, you need to consider available space – including the use of walls, trellises and fences; but also types of fruit. Soft fruits grown on the ground (strawberries and rhubarb) or bushes (gooseberries and currants), on  canes (raspberries) or ‘vines’ (grapes and blackberries) and trees on dwarfing stock – hard fruit (apples and pears) and stone fruits (cherries, peaches, apricots and plums). Then there are the ‘exotics’ (figs, lemons, and even oranges). Doesn’t it make your mouth water?

Just look at the Fruit
section within these pages
Take a look into the Dobies ‘Best Value Plants’ Spring 2012 catalogue that will have arrived in your post-box this last week. Pages 39 – 43 are packed with quality fruit plants that will have you checking every available space where fruit will flourish. (And if your catalogue copy has not arrived, go online to the Dobies fruit section). Consider seasonality – spreading the cropping period with different fruits, and you could be enjoying your own fruity delights throughout the summer and autumn. All fruits have their own generic cropping time, with early, mid and late-season varieties to extend availability. Any surplus (or gluts) can be made in jam, or be frozen or bottled or, as described in our Christmas Day post, into wine, juice or cordial.

Young strawberry plants in the author's garden (note the supports that will carry netting
once the fruit starts to ripen
Everyone can grow strawberries! If not in beds, then in pots on the patio, even in hanging baskets; so try the ‘Top Taste’ collection, or any of the other varieties listed. Unusual new Dobies 2012 soft fruit includes blueberries and the decorative fourberry, ‘Black Pearl’, plus the blackberry, 'Primocane Reuben’ which crops in its first year on upright canes.

Planted against a
wall 30 years ago
in the author's garden
Exotica: Dobies are supplying a variety of early-maturing fig, ‘Peretta’ , ideal for the UK climate and claimed to withstand the coldest winter once established. Best planted against a wall or fence. Also available are hardy citrus plants – lemon, lime, orange, mandarin and grapefruit; perfect for a conservatory though also suited to being grown in a pot in a sheltered spot outdoors (hardy in most parts of the UK down to -5°C).

Perfect for protecting fruit bushes from bird-attack
Soft fruit will need PROTECTION, from pesky birds! We encourage them into the garden to consume pests (at which they do a brilliant job), but expect them to lay off the fruit! You can use fleece, or netting, make your own frame, or buy an off-the-peg fruit cage. If you are starting from scratch, fit your planting to available frame sizes – but do check that netting is taut and cannot entangle birds' feet and claws. The ‘Natural Bamboo Fruit Cage’ is particularly conducive to small gardens.

Juicy, sweet and succulent berries from the author's fruit patch
And now an enormous 'thank you' to our readers: we now have fifty 'followers' of this blog! We know many more read it than follow it officially, for the statistics show that you do, and indicate your favourite posts. But it's lovely to become better acquainted and actually see you in the 'followers' side-bar. We truly appreciate your support.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Illustrated Garden Journals

fanciful experimental pages on apples - 15cm x 15cm (6"x6") pages prepped with masking tape to add 'tooth',  napkin apples, stamped images, hand-lettering; learning to circumnavigate failure (created around 2009)
One is full of good intentions at the start of a new year; there is almost an inevitability about making resolutions. So often no more than 'must do better' at the tasks that overtake one as the months go by. All that sowing and transplanting, thinning and weeding, clipping and mowing. Or "this year, I really will ....." What? Cudgelling oneself to do better at what we know (though we may not admit it) are personal failings? How about branching out (no pun intended): something maybe you have always wanted to try that can be accomplished in odd spare moments and which will build into a virtual garden of personal delights. 

Experimental piece for 2010 workshop attended to create a 'book-in--box': calico base, fused herbal napkin images,
embroidered text and free-machine daisy embellishments
I'm talking about hand-made garden journals - so much more than a notebook, diary or scrapbook. Giving yourself permission to play, to experiment - no need to share - a secret garden made from paper, words, photos, textiles if you wish and mixed-media (anything goes). Such an exploration into what is possible has been a personal crusade for me over the last few years and I share with Dobies readers at the end of this New Year's Day some jumping off points - to show that anything is possible. But I am no artist; so please forgive the lack of finesse in my illustrated pieces. 

'Journal Spilling' - bought A5 notebook - letting go (more experiments!)
Pages coloured with acrylic inks and paint, scraped with old credit card; napkin images applied with acrylic wax; words added using a white Pentel pen (I've since experimented with layered napkin images so that the background does not impinge on the finished result (2010)
Many people ask how or where to begin. To tell you to "just start" isn't that helpful, and a single blog post can hardly encapsulate every conceivable jumping off point. Most important of all is that you want to try. Honestly, any cheap notebook, paper or textile will do - see what you can re-cycle (charity shops are a good source). If you are given a beautiful and expensive journal, open it a few pages from the beginning and just write anything: a list of seeds just sown, a wish-list of equipment or plants. Shut your eyes and scribble, making a pattern on a page. If you are confident to draw, add thumb-nail sketches; or photos, or images from magazines.

Moving on: 'Nature Trail', commissioned for a gardening magazine article in late 2010 - map (distressed with ink and white tempera paint); napkin images applied to cheesecloth, fused and stitched; scanned diary entries (words and sketches), photo transfers onto 45gsm layout paper. The techniques with which I experimented in 2010 developed throughout 2011 into 'map trails' as a way of conveying a sense of history, time, place and memories.
Words can be a catalyst, but for me words alone are no longer enough. The adage "a picture tells a thousands words" is so very true. Use whatever falls to hand - utilise paper napkin images fused to fabric or to brown paper bags painted and folded as book pages; collect old books and maps; outworn clothes, stitched and 'antiqued'  with strong tea.  Experiment - and keep a notebook of what you do, so you can replicate any effect that pleases you. The seasons come and go; no one year is like any other, set in aspic, and interpreting what you sow and grow in a personally created garden journal somehow encapsulates precious moments forever. 
Coming together: in October 2011, I was invited to participate in a local art exhibition; most of the exhibitors are professional artists - I share this image of my 'illustrated journal' table to show that what began for me some years ago as a 'New Year Resolution' to work in more than just words has become another way of life - and my passion for gardening and nature - that sense of place - was the original catalyst.

Double click on any image to see it full-screen; and, if you wish, follow my experiments and tutorials on my personal creative blog. Happy new year - may it be productive on and off the page.