26 Jan 2013

Brightening up a winter's day

Looks like it's all over.  Rain and warmer temperatures are forecast but, for now, sunshine ... and more promised for tomorrow midday in the South. It's still very chilly but most of the snow has thawed or been washed away by last night's rain - I'll be venturing out into the veg patch today to see how solid the ground is.

Salix alba var. vitellina
Golden Willow at Capel Manor lake yesterday.
Yesterday, up at Capel Manor, there was snow on the ground and the lake was still partly frozen - the fountain had prevented freezing at one end while there was thick ice at the other.  Although the class rushed quickly, shuddering with cold, to complete the plant ident walk, I went back with my camera in the lunch break. (Thick gloves and a down-filled coat kept me warm.) After weeks of white and grey, yesterday's plant walk was a treat, providing several moments of pure and unexpected colour.

Hamamelis Mollis
Witch Hazel and Dogwood (Hamamelis mollis and Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Beauty')
Chaenomeles x superba
Japanese quince (Chaenomeles x superba).
Colourful cornus
Colourful Dogwood stems (Cornus alba 'Sibirica' and C. sanguinea 'Midwinter Beauty' behind)
The Japanese quince (Chaenomeles) is an interesting shrub - an untidy twiggy dome, covered with beautiful red flowers in winter, but the fruit rotting on the ground underneath shows that it can be productive in the summer.  The fruit can be used to make quince jelly, but, as with the quince tree (Cydonia oblonga), it's not good eaten raw.  Useful if you want to brighten your garden in winter with a smallish edible shrub - it likes sun or part shade - but beware the spiny stems!

Helleborus x hybridus
The Lenten Rose - Hellebore x hybrida.  Here growing alongside purple heathers and snowdrops.   

24 Jan 2013

This is Thursday

Today is Thursday

Thursday is my Friday.  Currently the end of the working week, day off and time to plan and catch up before Garden College on Friday and two whole days off at the weekend.  I love my life.

Today, sitting by the radiator (there's still snow outside), armed with two slices of hot buttered toast with marmalade (I have a friend who tells me off for using that old fashioned nursery phrase but, let's face it, 'Toast' just doesn't sum up the experience), a mug of coffee, a pile of books and a large seed box, I'm armchair gardening.

The books were free (except for Brian Capon, Botany for Gardeners on the top).  I recently discovered a local Books for Free recycled book shop nearby.  At each visit, you're allowed to take (and keep) 3 of someone's unwanted gifted books ... like a library with no return date.  The gentleman in the shop kindly let me have a double ration (he could see the gleam of obsession in my eye) so I came away with  two books on garden planning, a city gardener's handbook, the Tree and Shrub Expert, an illustrated book of herbs and a short biography of Gertrude Jekyll.  Bliss! I think these shops are popping up in empty shop premises all over the country so worth keeping a look out as they're a boon for avid readers of all genres.

Once the seed box has been sorted through, I'll put that away and get out my drawing board - I have to complete a page of garden design symbols and a drawing of a border (plant elevation) for an assignment due in next week. My own (community) garden is uppermost in my thoughts, I'm constantly visualising different planting combinations so mapping all this out on paper really helps to clear it out of my head.

I'll be ordering some Root Trainers for my sweet peas (a cuttings garden essential) and starting off my beetroot and broccoli in a windowsill propagator; these should be ready to plant out in about 6 weeks time, having been hardened off on the balcony for the last of those weeks.

By the end of all that, I think the "sun will be over the yard arm" (to quote my Dad) or perhaps it will just be time for a Spot of Afternoon Tea ...  Anyone else got any 'old fashioned' phrases that keep slipping into the conversation or is it just me that over-indulged with too much 'Miss Marple' / Joan Hickson at Christmas?

A further thought on root trainers:  In previous years I've used loo roll inners to start off my sweet peas, beans and peas.  Even microwaving the tubes before use has not stopped mould forming on the outside and, once planted, the cardboard takes ages to break down so the roots have to find their way down into the soil, rather than spreading out.  I haven't been impressed with the quality of plants produced by this method so this year I'm splashing out on buying root trainers.  The hinged ones allow the roots to be removed without damage prior to planting out and the shape of the trainers encourages a stronger root system by promoting the growth of fine hairs (better uptake of nutrients from the soil).

20 Jan 2013

Optimism and seasonality

~ Not unlike icicles - the winter catkins of Garrya elliptica ~ 
Well, hello again. Christmas zoomed past and now, here we are, covered in snow/slush as of yesterday (and more falling as I write). The veg beds and water butts are frozen but I'd already huddled tender potted plants together in one fleece-covered area for protection and mulched round other perennials.

The forecast threatened to thwart my first proper day back at college (we sketched at the V&A museum last week) but most of us made it so we were able to go out into the gardens for the plant walk and take notes with freezing fingers in falling snow. The Capel Manor gardens are closed to the public in the winter so it's a privilege to see some of the glorious winter colour and shapes that would either be gone or be overlooked by the time the gardens reopen. Walking around yesterday the class stopped by a holly hedge in the Which? trial gardens - I couldn't help but notice the fantastically fairytale twisting branches of the hazel hedge behind it.  Elsewhere a bank of dogwood stems of various colours and snow-crusted sedum heads looked stunning against the snow but I couldn't stop to take a photo as the class had moved on. Here's the hedge though:

Twisted Hazel hedge

I'd love this in the veg patch gardens, I imagine it would make an excellent windbreak in summer.

Doing this course and being obliged to go outdoors and look at the same garden every week regardless of weather, has sharpened my awareness of tiny seasonal changes and how plants react. Instead of hibernating with my summer garden plans, I'm out in the veg patch gardens thinking about how best to use what I've learned to improve the way I grow things.  The big pre-Christmas assignment on All Things to do with Soil has provided plenty of food for thought and this term we're studying botany. That doesn't mean that I'm not also using my time to plan what to grow this year - my newly bought seeds are up on my Pinterest page '2013 Veg Garden' ...

... with last year's seed box still to be sorted through.  The British gardener is a triumph of optimism over adversity but I have resolved to try and keep things fairly simple this year, growing stuff that I know will work well (herbs, squashes, unusual tomatoes, beets and beans) so that I can concentrate on digging up another long border to have a flower cutting patch. That area will also include a few edibles such as my globe artichokes 'Violette de Provence', grown from seeds and currently in deep pots, and Red Orach (Atriplex hortensis 'Rubra') as it's a plant that falls between two camps being both ornamental and edible!

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