10 Feb 2013

Currently inspired by ...

Galanthus 'Magnet'
Snowdrops at Cambridge Botanical Gardens.

I really wanted to be outside today, playing with a recent purchase of a new cloche, but it's raining so there's no gardening to be done - too muddy, too cold, too wet. This time last week I marvelled at the colours as I wandered around the winter garden in the Cambridge Botanic Gardens (a college field trip); on Friday, it was the yellow crocuses on the lawn in front of Capel Manor house and tiny deep blue Iris reticulata in the walled garden that brightened the view.

Crocus x luteus 'Golden Yellow' So today I'm indoors, cup of tea, slice of cake, sitting in the warmth and thinking about work for my garden design course. We have a big test next Friday to make sure all the plant science stuff has been understood - revision will have to be bedtime reading.  In the meantime, I'm having fun sketching.

I've just handed in a big drawing assignment on garden graphics, now I'm building up my sketchbook. It's another assignment but, as ever, laying down good habits for future design planning.  It started with sketching at the V&A but now extends to include plants, hard landscaping and whatever else inspires us. At last, a valid reason to browse Pinterest and read endless garden mags!  I'm trying to do a little bit every day, although that works better in theory than in practise.

For the big horticulture test, we've been learning the science behind how plants function; words like xylem, phloem, cortex, stomata, transpiration and photosynthesis trip lightly off the tongue when in the classsroom.  Sounds dull?  Not at all.  It's why dark green leaved perennials usually prefer to grow in the shade and why variegated leaves are much brighter grown in the open with good winter light.  Plants such as Chimonanthus (Winter Sweet), Sarcococca (Sweet Box) and Mahonia use their fantastically perfumed flowers to attract early pollinators towards their nectar, a symbiotic relationship that ensures survival for both. (Who would have thought the insect world was keeping busy in this cold and dreary weather?)  Cyclamen seeds are moved around the garden in late winter by ants, the wide dispersal giving the plants a greater chance of survival.

And what an eye opener this week's lesson on plant nutrition was!  This brought me full circle back to the veg:  learning why (and when) plants need extra NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and other minerals was invaluable. Potassium hardens the cell walls in a plant, hence its importance for roses and tomatoes.  Brassicas with yellowing base leaves (chlorosis) need more nitrogen; with rotting stem centres, they're lacking boron (fortunately quite rare but helped by a seaweed feed) - and dead.  When plants get sick (as in they're nutritional needs are not being met), they're more susceptible to pests and disease; with a bit of knowledge, the situation becomes retrievable. I've always suspected that any success in the veg patch was due to more luck than judgement. It seems that the more I know, the more I realise how little I knew before.

I hope all this college work will leave me enough gardening time this summer.  I'm reading Anna Pavord's book 'The Curious Gardener' (highly recommended) and her advice is not to be in too much of a rush to sow seeds of annuals: "Those that are sown in April quickly catch up with those sown in March." Despite this good advice and my own resolution not to yield to impulse seed buying, I bagged packets of cornflowers, poppies, loads of sweet peas and nasturtiums for £2 after popping into my local Poundstretcher for a pop up garden waste bin. The colours on the seed packets were so inspiring! I'm looking forward to growing them - the nasturtiums will be trained up the apple trees - and have kept them in the kitchen for now to remind me that spring can't be too far off. For now, I'll console myself with planting broad beans if it ever stops raining.

Seedy temptation

A few jobs to do now:

Last chance to prune apples and pears, if needed.
Hard prune autumn fruiting raspberry canes and mulch.
Plant broad beans, garlic and onion sets, if not already done.
Start to chit potatoes.

18 comments:

  1. Potatoes chitting; shallots waiting to be planted; Broad Beans waiting to be sowed. Rain, waiting to stop...

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    1. I suspect we're all in the same boat, Mark. I don't much fancy sticking my trowel in the soil to plant anything until it dries out quite a bit! I wasn't going to bother with spuds this year but Anna Pavord writes so persuasively about the taste benefits of heritage potatoes that I may well try and track a few down! So much for resolutions!

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  2. The rain is driving me nuts here, just as well I can play indoors. I love the sound of your course, so stimulating, though the idea of sketching would really intimidate me. I read that article about not rushing the sowing - and then promptly went and sowed some annuals! I figure any success will be a bonus, I've made sure I have plenty of seed left for trying again later. As for the rest, broad beans sown, not trying onions or garlic this year, just planted new raspberry canes, got them in just before the skies emptied. Again. They might drown before they settle in, washed away on a sea of mud...

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    1. Our rain turned to sleet then settling snow by the time I had supper on the table! I had thought we were done with snow for this year so am partly disappointed and relieved that I haven't started even indoor gardening. I have classmates that say the same as you - they hate the idea of sketching but then they surprise themselves when it turns out okay! Personally, I find it very relaxing, especially if I listen to music at the same time. Don't worry about your raspberry canes; I think it was the deluge last year that made mine fruit so prolifically! They're very hardy!

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  3. I too would like the rain to stop. I really need to find the time to sow the broad beans in pots & the raspberry canes are still unpruned. Roll on next weekend.

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    1. Hope you've made the most of glorious recent weather to prune those raspberry canes! I did mine a couple of days ago and could see buds on the old canes and new canes shooting through already!

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  4. Interesting, and informative post, and good pictures. Those are all annuals that I'm growing as well.
    I think that it's too early to be planting broad beans onion sets, besides which the ground is still far too soggy. Flighty xx

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    1. Thanks Flighty - I'm especially pleased with the snowdrop photo. Broad beans are an anomaly aren't they? Last year I planted mine at this time but perhaps the weather was slightly warmer. I usually forget to plant them in the late autumn which is when I've seen it done on the TV.

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  5. Beautiful snowdrop photo there Caro. I went to a winter walkabout at the Chelsea Physic Garden on Saturday - plenty of snowdrops, but a bit grey and drizzly for any nice shots. I did do some indoor sowing yesterday (chillies and tomatoes) but like you, am holding back on the flowers for the time being. I might risk a few trays in the cold frame this week but only for the really hardy ones!
    Today, however, is focused on the horti revision - exam day on Thurs.... I couldn't be more thankful for the snow covering outside, which makes it easier to be inside stuck at my desk.

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    1. Blue skies always tempt me outdoors so I've been glad not to be distracted from college work. Hope your horti exam went well. I think I did okay in mine but won't know until after half term. I'm getting on with pruning and tidying so that I'm a bit more ready when the time to sow comes!

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  6. Your course is sounding more and more interesting as the weeks go by. I am trying not to sow seeds too soon this year, the ground will have to dry out before I can sow anything outdoors, it is so sodden! Must make room in the greenhouse and conservatory, then the seed sowing can start in earnest!

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    1. It is, Pauline! We were warned at the very beginning that the course builds up rapidly towards the summer so it will get harder but more interesting in the weeks ahead. I envy you your greenhouse and conservatory, such a boon at this time of year for starting off plants.

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  7. I love Anna Pavord's book too. The course sounds brilliant. It is fascinating all the science behind plants. When I went back to college I loved it and I had never really liked science at school. I wish I had had the opportunity to do more botany when I was younger. Still better late than never. I'm seed sowing today but I'm being restrained as it'll be mainly sweet peas and broad beans. I think a lot of seedlings will struggle with the low light levels at the moment. No snow here but I'm bracing myself for tomorrow. Fingers crossed it isn't as bad as they predict.

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    1. Hi Welly, a couple of days after you wrote this, it snowed here as well - big chunky flakes falling all day but, luckily, didn't settle for long. More freezing temps predicted for this weekend so I've got my plants snuggled under fleece and plastic still. I'm going to start some sweet peas off soon as I have loads to sow. It's my usual method of having time to sow more if the first batch fails! But you're right about the light levels and the soil is still too cold for outdoor sowing. Lucky you with your greenhouse!!

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  8. I suppose it's like anything, the more you learn about it, the more you understand the whys and wherefores. I'm getting a bit fed up with the weather now, I know it's still winter, but I haven't done a thing outside yet this year, everywhere is still so wet. I think I feel worse because of the weather we had last year, it seems such a long time ago since we had an extended spell of proper gardening weather.

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    1. I'm late in replying to your comments, Jo, so I hope you've been able to get outside for some tidying on the two sunny days we've had since you wrote. It's still very early in the year but I think we're all getting a bit of cabin fever now and desperate to see if this year will be an improvement on last! Let's hope so!

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  9. Exquisite snowdrop photo Caro - should wing its way into the pages of a gardening magazine. Your course sounds absolutely fascinating. It's been a long time since I've done any formal study but such a subject does sound most tempting. "Too muddy, too cold, too wet" - sounds a most familiar story but I have made a start by sowing sweet peppers today. As it is supposed to get warmer later this week I think that I will get some sweet peas if it does as forecast. Thanks for the timely reminder about pruning autumn fruiting raspberries - I might even get to the allotment at the weekend :)

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    1. What a lovely compliment, Anna - thank you! Wouldn't that be nice, to be published in a garden mag! I've made the most of a couple of bright days in the garden but it still feels too early for the protective covers to come off. I wish I'd remembered to grow winter veg this year, it's one way of connecting with the garden all year round!

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Caro x

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