Friday, 30 November 2012

Progress in our 'Dobies' garden plots

Cabbages just showing to the left, perennial herbs and polyanthus right.

We’ve gone from four inches of rain in two days to nights of heavy frost and freezing temperatures. But on the good days in between I was actually able to start on the much-needed reclamation of the pottager. Everything has suffered from my inattention this Summer, but a determined effort, and tackling the job little by little and three of the raised beds are productive again. Cabbages packed close in one bed (protected from the birds with netting) and a change of plan for the other three. Another has been planted with unusual perennial herbs (the rocket self-seeded and has germinated already), and a transplanted feverfew, because it looked so pretty. All the beds have been edged with a rather special primrose – yellow, tinged blue-green, and a joyous mix of polyanthus

Harvested garlic in a good year (this summer's crop was poor)
Plans for the four-bed potager have changed: it is to become my decorative courtyard with flowers for cutting as well as salads. Each bed is being converted to double height (easier on old bones when sowing, planting and weeding) and central within each square is an inexpensive pot that has been planted with a few garlic cloves. I particularly love the hardneck tyoes – closest to wild garlic and producing edible ‘scapes’ –actually a flower-stalk that if left on the plant and not eaten twists and curls and eventually forms a fascinating seed-head.

Bulbs broadcast and ready for planting, with garlic pot centre.
Having decided that this confined and ‘secret’ little bit of our garden is to incorporate a cutting area, one raised bed is now planted with dozens of mixed bulbs: hyacinths, tulips – for which I have a passion, muscari to add that touch of blue and miniature daffs, and the odd fritillaria or two. I ‘broadcast’ them in groups until the bed was filled, topped up the bed with compost (that which Dobies supplies is the best I have ever used), and then sprinkled some packets of hardy annual seed (calendula, night-scented stock, love-in-the-mist (nigella) and the like, all of which will flower that much earlier than if I wait until Spring.

Add captionSupplied complete with bulbs and compost.
Nearer the house, there are no pots of bulbs this year as they all went into the potager bed.  What I should have thought of, and could still do, is to obtain a ‘Spring Bulb Willow Planter’ i(or a series of them.) Made from natural looking willow, each contains four types of spring-flowering bulb Perfect for outdoor use on balconies, patios or decking - any space that calls out for colour! Size: 38 x 28 x 15cm high, each basket is supplied with 10 Narcissus bulbs, 7 Red Dwarf Tulips, 15 Muscari, 4 White Hyacinths plus top quality compost and full growing instructions. It would also make a perfect gift for a gardening friend.

Rhubarb 'Polish Raspberry'
Whilst the ‘Courtyard Potager’ has been having a makeover, I’ve been looking at other areas of the garden – the Dobies trial areas are expanding, with new spaces being created for perennial veg, amonst which I classify rhubarb, even though it is more correctly listed as a fruit. Rhubarb is fast becoming one of the most sought-after ingredients in the kitchen - and is so easy to grow! Available for the first time in the UK, ‘Polish Raspberry’ is an outstanding variety, claimed to be quite possibly the best-tasting rhubarb Dobies has ever trialled! It produces good crops of strong green stems that are washed with red, and evidently tastes divine whist also being recommended for freezing. Supplied as bare root crowns.

My trial garden here in the north Cotswolds already has an area in which I grown new varieties of Dobies fruit, so I will be intrigued to try the new Blueberry ‘Pink Lemonade’ – with pink berries. The bushy, upright-growing plants have fine, pointed leaves, making them ideal for growing in a mixed ornamental border as well as in the fruit garden. The heavy crops of berries start out bright green, turning pale pink and finally, when they mature in August/September, deep rose-pink. They evidently have a delicious sweet taste, with a pleasant, solid texture, and are superb eaten fresh or cooked in puddings and pies. Supplied in a 1.3 litre pot. Height after 7-10 years approximately 1.5m (5’). I think maybe one or two would be perfect in the shrubbery-cum-herb garden that is as yet but a dream. And maybe next year I can add a little festive cheer to special occasions – pink blueberry berries in champagne!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Christmas Bookshelf plus Gifts & Treats

Some of my favourite gardening books - gifts and purchases acquired over many years.

Gardening books are always welcome at Christmas - or treat yourself! Many titles are so useful that you will want to keep them on the bookshelf and refer to them regularly. The Dobies Christmas Gift Catalogue list four titles worthy of a permanent place in a garden library – and they have packaged each with a generous quantity of free packets of Dobies seeds; excellent value.

Seeds will be from Dobies and not as shown.
‘The Complete Vegetable Gardener’ published in 2011 by The Reader’s Digest and expertly authored by Fern Marshall Bradley & Jane Courtier is subtitled “from planting to picking – the complete guide to creating a bountiful garden”; a title that is beautiful as well as productive and already by my bedside for early morning study over a cup of tea. Divided into two parts – 'Your Garden' and 'The Vegetables'   each section is sensibly subdivided into chapters. Part One covers planning; ground preparation; sowing, planting and growing; followed by harvesting and storing. Part Two divides into vegetable families: lettuce and salads, peas and beans, onions, cabbage, root and stem crops, tomatoes and ‘heat lovers’, sweetcorn, vine crops (courgettes, squash etc), perennial and annual herbs and finally, permanent plantings.

the 1-metre  VegTrug
Treat Yourself: If you lack space but still want to grow a limited supply of salads and vegetables, have a bad back or are wheelchair-bound, why not gift yourself one or more of these ‘Veg Trugs’?  The ‘V’ shape gives scope for planting different types of veg – or with more than one you could rotate crop types. The wooden structure is supplied flat-packed for home-assembly and is available in two sizes – 1 metre  (ref 581917) and 1.8m  (ref 583996). Plastic feet, a strong internal membrane and 7 packets of easy to grow veg seed complete the package.

Published this year by Hermes House, ‘The New Flower Arranger’ offers contemporary approaches to floral design, which will give those who grow flowers and shrubs new insight into what is possible. The author, Fiona Barnett, provides 150 innovative designs (traditional as well as contemporary), accompanied by over 700 fantastic images and step-by-step photographs of each display. Techniques are also provided for drying your own material, which adds another aspect to the flower arranger’s craft. Free seeds.

You may not be an avid flower arranger but what chocoholic could deny themselves – or their beloved – the beauty of a bouquet of handmade, luxury chocolate flowers? They look divine, almost too good to eat, and are made by the family firm of Guisabel from the Loire region of France. Created from pure cocoa butter rich in vitamins and minerals, choose from single flowers in edible pots to magnificent bouquets – the ‘Red Bouquet’ illustrated left has 16 chocolate flower heads and 16 handmade chocolates in shades of red and pink.

A boxed set of two titles pertaining to wildlife offers practical gardening advice for animal lovers. Published in 2012 by Anness Books with over 1,700 stunning photographic images between them, readers will soon be re-thinking their plots to be more eco-friendly. ‘How to Create a Wildlife Garden’ by Christine & Michael Lavelle does just that: complete instructions for designing and planting wildlife habitats with over 40 practical projects. Crucial reading is the chapter on the role of gardens for wildlife, plus the introductory topics on microclimates, garden soils, design principles and garden surveys, urban or otherwise. Free seeds.

Partnering the Wildlife book is ‘Attracting & Feeding Garden Birds’, edited by Jen Green. Birds enliven any garden, devour pests, but can also eat our fruit! Keep avian visitors well-provided for by making them welcome through feeders you can make yourself and what you plant in your garden. The book shows you how. Free seeds.

N.B. Please be aware that as I write (Sat 24th November), the link to the Dobies site for these books is not compatible with the titles I am writing about. I will sort the hiccup when Dobies offices re-open on Monday and post an additional blog relating to this book package. Sorry.

Need a quick bird feeder? Take a look at the Wildlife Sanctuary section of the Christmas Catalogue – the 'Bountiful Feeder' is made from woven willow complete with roof, and comes supplied with six types of highly nutritious seeds which you can top up as they are consumed. An ideal gift for children (or grandchildren) who may well be able to recognize a robin but little else!

Not sure what your loved ones or gardening friends would prefer? Opt for a Dobies of Devon Gift Voucher and ease the strain of decision-making.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Christmas is Coming!

Excellent value - and a choice of three gardening hampers
The excitement of Christmas in our household is always complicated by the earlier dilemma of "What shall we buy for so-and-so?" The thought of trekking round the shops and garden centre is enough to deter even the most determined of gift givers; but when you can sit of an afternoon with a cup of tea and work your way through a catalogue offering a fascinating array of truly useful gifts, that will be delivered to your door, well why wait? The Dobies 2012 Christmas Catalogue is on my desk as I write;  working my way through it, there is just so much that would be perfect for gardening outdoors, and for the indoor gardening addict when the weather is not fit. Starting with the back cover (as one does!) take a look at the superb 'Gardening Hamper Gift Sets'. Choose from one that includes seeds for either traditional vegetables, patio veg, or garden flowers - every hamper contains a top quality stainless steel trowel and fork, natural jute garden twine, a windowsill propagator 'Jiffy' growing modules, bio-degradable pots and 10 packets of seed as per selection above.

Turning to the catalogue pages in logical order, most households would enjoy a hardy indoor ‘Ageless Azalea’ – with red or white flowers. Either is supplied in a 12cm (4.72in) pot. The best way to keep the plants fresh is out of direct sunlight (they are edge-of-woodland plants), sitting in a bowl part filled with gravel which you keep moist with rain-water, as they are none too keen on lime. Avoid wetting the flowers and keep the leaves dust free.

Or how about some 'Fragrant Hyacinths' – three bulbs in pink, white or blue planted in a 15cm (6in) basket. Stand on a plate to prevent staining of tabletop surface, and keep compost moist, indeed don’t let it dry out. These prepared bulbs will flower within 2-3 weeks depending on room temperature. I like to fill my kitchen windowsill with flowering bulbs.

For a real treat, I hanker after a luxury silk ‘Elegant Peony & Viburnum’. Exceptionally life-like in its pretty receptacle, the exquisite blooms are created by the inspirational company, Floralsilk, for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  Gift one to your mother, mother-in-law or grandmother. Every purchase will contribute towards plant science and conservation undertaken by the RBG.

Finally in this trawl through the catalogue: take a look at the ‘Big Dibber’ – an easy-to-use implement made from sustainable mango wood (polished to a smooth finish) with centimeter gradations in 2cm increments up its length. It will allow you to accurately measure planting depths from 2cm to 28cm (11in) for seeds, bulbs, tubers and small plants. If you prefer to work in inches, just write the nearest equivalent on the reverse side using a permanent marker pen.

If you simply cannot decide what to give a gardening friend or relative, how about an  Online Gift VoucherVouchers are available from £5 to £250 and as soon as you order one online,  you will be e-mailed a special 16-digit voucher code right away! A gift for the recipient to spend on the Dobies website. Coming next week: Gardening Books with free Dobies seeds and gifts that will help to encourage wildlife into your garden.