Showing posts with label winter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label winter. Show all posts

9 Jan 2021

Sowing seeds in January

A jumble of seed packets
The cull. Most are only just 'out of date' .. but perhaps good enough for micro leaves?

With the start of a new year heralding a third lockdown, the arrival of seed catalogues is especially welcome, steering my thoughts away from grey sleet-filled skies towards the colourful harvests of spring and summer. And with the itch to hurtle towards spring and embrace the new growing year, it’s exciting to discover a number of crops that can be started off this month. 

20 Dec 2017

Ways to keep warm while winter gardening


Hands up all those who garden through the winter?  And how many of those hands are currently getting cold while gardening? Or dog walking, foraging, chopping logs? Indeed any outdoor activity during winter. Personally, I find numb fingers very challenging. Well, my lovelies, I've found a solution in the gloves photographed above.

Like many others, I was always told that if you keep your extremities warm (feet, head, hands), the rest of your body would stay warm too.  In the days of coal fires and cold rooms when I was very young, I remember my grandad wore his woolly hat to bed in winter; his head was almost bald so needed the extra protection! My mum made sure that my siblings and I had warm knitted mittens, thick socks, wool coats and hats on before she shooshed us outside - and it worked, we stayed warm and had rosy cheeks from the fresh seaside air ... even if we looked like the Start-Rite kids.

Much more recently, there was a conversation thread on the Facebook Garden Bloggers group about what gardeners wore to keep warm.  It was generally agreed that layers was the way to go, with thermal vests and tights under t-shirts and trousers, and jumpers or fleeces under protective gardening garb. Woolly hats were recommended, thick socks under gardening boots helpful.  A flask of hot water for tea or coffee, essential. Tea, toast, cake and a warming fire something to look forward to at the end of the day; several mentioned the hypnotic allure of a good bonfire in the garden at this time of year.  It became apparent that many gardeners don't stop in winter but wrap up warm and get on with it. Those fruit trees and shrubs are not going to prune themselves.

As for me, I like to be able to move freely so use a lightweight fleece lined jacket over wool jumper and vest, and that does the trick for me. I'm also lucky to have a pair of very warm wellies. Once I get moving, I heat up very quickly. But my hands sometimes get cold, even with leather gardening gloves to take the edge off.  Recently, I was delighted to spot these thermal gardening gloves on the Briers website then saw that they were out of stock. I phoned to ask if they were getting any more in and was told that they'd restocked the day before and would I like a pair?  Ooh, yes please! I wore them for the first time yesterday in the garden and they exceeded all expectations. I emptied trugs of icy water, dug weeds from soggy soil, lifted cold pots and gathered wet leaves with my hands. My usual gloves would have been wet, cold and my hands the same; with these Ultimate Thermal gloves, my hands were toasty warm, dry and comfortable. Need I say more? (Except perhaps that they're washable.)

My opinion? Essential kit for all winter gardening.


Disclosure: Briers gifted me a pair without asking for a review but they work so well that I wanted everyone to know about them.

Here are the details:
Briers Ultimate Thermal gloves. Now £5.99. Flexible down to -30ÂșC; double insulated with brushed fleece inner liner for added warmth; foam coated palm for added grip. (The coating also makes the fingers and palm water resistant.) Sizes: Medium, Large, Extra Large. (I have small hands; the gloves were slightly loose but not overly so, and worth it for the warmth they gave.)  Washable.



22 Dec 2015

The Reversal of the Sun


Last night, the skies cleared and, even here in well-lit urban London, there was a glorious bright moon and lots of glimmering stars to be seen.  It was an awesome portent of the solstice to come in the early hours of this morning.

Solstice translates as 'sun standing still' but it's a misnomer because the solstice defines the moment that the earth shifts so that the North Pole starts to tilt back towards the sun and our days lengthen in the Northern Hemisphere. For our Antipodean friends, the opposite is true - sorry, guys, your days are now getting shorter.  For any gardeners not bogged down in the more commercially oriented event of Christmas, there might be a frisson of excitement at the thought of our days slowly getting longer and lighter over the next few months. But I'm warned by my diary page for today ominously declaring: 'Winter Solstice. Winter begins.' Suddenly I have visions of Narnia's winter descending across the land. But without kindly Mr Tumnus.

The solstice was officially at 4.48 this morning although there would have been very little to see as sunrise wasn't (allegedly) until 8.05 a.m.  Although at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, it's the sunset that is more important in winter. Stonehenge, with standing stones reckoned to be over 5,000 years old, is a site sacred to neo-pagans who turn up to celebrate the solstice twice a year. Scientists believe that the site was originally a burial place for over 500 years before the stones were erected.  Whatever the truth, there's a powerful atmosphere there for a fanciful child.  I vividly recall walking among, and touching, the stones as a young child; my dad liked to take us kids off to see sites of cultural or historical interest (Dover Castle, Land's End, Magna Carta, the Round Table, etc).  Maybe I was a geeky kid (no response needed, thanks) but those visits have stayed with me and the stones, especially, wow, they exerted a powerful magic over my imagination.  At the time they weren't roped off.  Anyone could park up on the road and just walk around; you can't do that these days. I don't think we gave a lot of thought to the possibility of the stones toppling, despite evidence that some of them already had.

What is remarkable is that the solstice has been marked in many different cultures for hundreds of years. The winter solstice has always been an important event in the northern world; it was a day that marked the start of winter and a time for slaughtering cattle. In that way winter feed was saved and meat added to food stores over the coldest winter months. Our ancestors traditionally lit fires, told stories and generally hunkered down in the dark days of winter, cheered up by beer and wine brewed during the year that was then ready for drinking - a tradition carried on today by those (myself included) who prepare sloe gin or other festive treats from foraged, or home-grown, fruits.

I'm hoping that the solstice isn't going to be a harbinger of imminently plummeting temperatures.  Inevitably, they can't be far off but, for now, I'm revelling in milder conditions to get jobs done in the garden, usually just managing a couple of hours before darkness falls at 4 pm. We had lukewarm sunshine and temps of 60F on Sunday; if it had been February, we'd have been welcoming in an early spring.  Today was greyer, wetter and a lot windier but, waiting for a pause between gusts of wind, I managed to photograph a few of the plants still flowering to show how mild it is.  I have snowdrops in flower next to summer's bright red geraniums and calendula next to primulas. The echinacea is, admittedly, the last one for this year.






8 Dec 2015

It's brassicas out there



It would be gratifying to be able to write about the garden in December with vibrant photos but, truth be told, there's not a lot going on.  Oh sure, the rivers of curly kale are not about to dry up any time soon, Cavolo Nero is still the champion producer of leaves for supper after nearly nine months in the ground (I don't pick every day so it has a chance to catch up) although it's looking more like a palm tree every day, calabrese heads are plumping up and the purple sprouts are looking so good I'm almost loathe to pick them.  So it's all about the brassicas at the moment.  My winter chard is a total fail, the failure being that I didn't make time to sow any seeds, ditto spinach and overwintering broad beans. As the forecast harsh winter hasn't yet materialised, I may chance a few of those seeds under cloches; I seriously doubt it will come to much but what's to lose?


I was gardening in the dark on Friday evening, as you do when stuff has kept you indoors for most of the day - and it was actually very pleasant.  Comfortably mild with a stiff breeze and plenty of light from nearby flats to light my way - one real benefit of city gardening is that it's never pitch black.  Taking my cue from plant biologist Professor Ken Thompson, I decided to cut down my raspberry canes now; the Autumn Bliss are definitely going and will be dug up next week as I need to clear the space for the veg patch redesign - my winter project.  Most of my raised beds have rotted to the point of falling apart and I've been given four new scaffolding boards (whoop whoop!) and a pile of new old-style bricks to make some paths. There's gonna be a whole lot of digging going on.  And, come spring time, lots of tulips and daffodils to start off my new cut flower patch area, if I ever get the bulbs planted … although I probably won't actually pick any of the spring flowers as I like everyone to enjoy the view.  That's the plan, let's see if there's enough available time.

I might have just lied when I said that the garden was all brassicas.  The globe artichoke that I grew from a seed (I love saying that) looks like it will need splitting. The plant started new growth in the autumn and I can see there are three plants there now.  It was huge in the summer and had to be thwacked out of the way to get past it so I'm going to try and move it. I'm not sure how easy they are to lift and divide - has anyone successfully done that or do you leave yours to get monstrously huge? Do tell, please.

I will, however, definitely be moving my Glaskins perpetual rhubarb (also grown from a seed, heheh); it's only just stopped producing huge leaves in the last few weeks and is growing in the middle of my planned flower patch so will only be tolerated in the future if it's contained in a corner or even another part of the garden - perhaps next to the Red Champagne rhubarb which I planted when the Glaskin's was still relatively manageable.

Frosty temperatures in November brought an end to my cheery nasturtiums; a few of them struggled on but I've pulled out most of them now, they look so awful when wilted by frost.  Thank goodness for scabious and nicotiana, both still flowering and making me smile along with one solitary echinacea, a few roses, heuchera's coral bells and, soon I hope, snowdrops.


Winter is such a good time to make plans and this keeps me connected with nature and the garden. How's winter shaping up for you and your garden?

Thank you to everyone who congratulated me on my GMG award - as usual, all your lovely comments brought a smile to my face and left me feeling perky all day. Caro xx


25 Nov 2015

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday


I spotted this, one of five buds, on my walk round a very soggy and cold garden at 8 a.m. this morning.

Shouldn't someone tell this sunflower that it's … {say it quietly} almost December?

So, what do we think: London micro-climate, the warmth of a semi-walled garden or just the mild weather getting plants all confused? 

5 Feb 2015

A small winter of dis/content



“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” 
― Carl Reiner (Actor in Ocean's Eleven)

Oh boy, was I happy when I opened the curtains on Tuesday morning to find that a blanket of snow had settled overnight.  Only a thin blanket, mind, so I knew it wouldn't last.



I love the stillness of fresh new snow but I'm not so keen once it's been trampled or the disruption it causes. Luckily I was working from home that day so I popped outside to take a few photos for the blog (as you do) before it all melted.



As Flighty has said in his snowy post, I was expecting to see animal footprints, particularly as I've seen several very bold (and obviously hungry) foxes around in the past week, but there was nothing except pristine clean snow. A few photos and numb fingers later, I headed for home.  It was then, as I retreated back to the warmth of my flat, that I slipped on an icy patch. As I grabbed hold of a rail to steady myself, the sudden movement ripped at a muscle at the top of my arm. Ouch!



Luckily my plants are made of sterner stuff - the broccoli, PSB, kale and even new shoots on the chive plants appear almost waterproof and shrugged off the effects of snow.




By midday the snow had melted away; two days later, the pain in my arm is also easing. I can only hope that's winter over and done with. 


“Winter is nature's way of saying, "Up yours.” 
― Robert Byrne (Author)

22 Jan 2015

Scents and sensibility

(Now there's a title that's been trotted out more than once in blogland, I'll wager.)

(I don't need to tell you this is Honeysuckle, do I?)

In the winter months, while waiting for the garden to wake up, there's something really special about the scent of flowers on the breeze or in the still of an evening. It's there to attract pollinators and is particularly helpful to bumblebees who start to wake up in January and need to stock up their food reserves.

I've been thinking about scent in the garden since being asked to advise on a bare patch of earth destined to become a front garden. The client is a florist who wants her garden to be welcoming and uplifting whether viewed from the street or indoors. So my recommendations will encompass scent, colour, movement and seasonal interest.  I then read that Sue, author of Backlane Notebook blog, and Louise 'Wellywoman' Curley were proposing a monthly round up post of the scent in our gardens. Open to all, join in! Wellywoman's first post is here.

I headed outside to see what was scenting the air locally.  There are two stands of Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' in the gardens here - a shrub well-known for its subtle scent and pretty flower clusters in the middle of winter. I say "subtle" but at times I've been able to get a whiff from a good five paces away.

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'


There's also some ancient honeysuckle snaking through an overgrown Hebe - I think it's Japanese honeysuckle which is supposed to flower in summer but I found a few blossoms among the evergreen leaves and quickly snipped those for a vase indoors. They're wilting after five days but even now I can catch a whiff as I walk past.

But an unusual winter niff, at least from these gardens, is from Petasites fragrans.  Popularly known as Winter Heliotrope and related to Sweet Coltsfoot and Butterburr, it's more commonly found on roadsides and woodland verges. It's perennial and non-native, being introduced to the UK as a garden plant back in 1806 when George III was still our monarch. By 1835, it had escaped from gardens into the wild.  I only found out what it was last year thanks to an article in the RHS magazine on scented winter flowers.



The flower spikes are about ten inches high and only really look good for a few days but get up close, or pick a few for a small vase, and their sweet scent is revealed.  I've read that they smell like vanilla or honey.  As a keen baker, I have to disagree - to me, they smell sweet, like baby talc.  If the colour soft pink had a smell, this would be it.

But that's it - its one and only season of interest. In these gardens, the flower spikes start to appear in late December and the flowers - small tubular clusters - show up in early January.  The leaves are soft, bright green and shaped like lily pads but even those will be blackened or mottled by a sharp frost. The plant spreads by underground rhizomatous roots and there's my problem.  It's quietly invasive and hard to get rid of except with some determination and a lot of digging.



It dominates one of the raised borders here and is earmarked to go. So far it's been left alone because it provides dense ground cover until I'm ready to use the space but I've noticed that it's spread along under the Hebe where it usefully grows in shade. I suspect it's providing cover for a host of over wintering bugs and bumbles so I'll relocate some when (or if) I dig it up.  It would make a good alternative to ivy in a lightly shaded garden, I think, but it grows to the detriment of other plants nearby.

I think I mentioned that it spreads easily …  

I have no idea why it's growing in the gardens here - I can't imagine anyone deliberately choosing to plant it and I'm fairly certain you can't buy it - but it does provide a rich source of early nectar for bumblebees.  Because bumbles are warm-blooded they can fly in cooler winter temperatures (unlike the honeybee) so an early source of food for them is vital - especially if you want your veg pollinated in due course. They can fly up to six miles from the nest site so it's in the gardener's best interest to ensure they stick around by providing a good source of nectar.  In her book 'The Natural Gardener', Val Bourne says that they have a preference for tubular flowers - foxgloves, aconitums and nepetas being their favourites.  It seems that Petasites might be more friend than foe.




PS. Don't think my search for winter scent stopped at home; next up, Daphne bholua and the winter walk at Wisley.


14 Dec 2013

Capel Moments .. A winter's day

Dew-berries Capel
Surreal: so still that the droplets of thawed frost just hung there - not one of these fell!

The icy fingers of Jack Frost have not yet touched the veg patch garden so I was super excited on my drive up to Enfield yesterday to see frosted allotments at the side of the road as I knew this meant it would be proper frosty in the gardens at college, at least at the start of the day.  Crystallised plants have a novel beauty at the beginning of the winter and I wasn't disappointed.

Frosted rose.


Proper frosty. Frozen grasses.

By lunchtime, a light mist and perfect stillness hung over the grounds; so peaceful in the walled garden, it was hard to believe that the traffic of the M25 was zooming around the north perimeter of the college.  A pale winter's sun added to the ambience and made it a perfect day for a lunchtime walk. (That's when the berries were photographed.)  I thought that would be the end of my photo opportunities but by 4 pm, the end of the college day, one last treat lay in store - a low lying mist hovered a few feet off the ground at sunset. I just managed to grab a few shots with my iphone before dark settled. (And wished, not for the first time that day, that I'd thought to bring my proper camera with me!)

Field of mist


Back in the veg patch this morning, it's quite mild but nonetheless I've popped a cloche over a couple of the more tender herbs. I say 'cloche' - actually, it's an upturned clear plastic storage box which did the job perfectly through the last year's winter and ensured the vigorous survival of the French Tarragon, a herb widely known for keeling over in the bitter cold. Herbs that need protecting in my garden are lovage, blackcurrant sage (still with beautiful bright pink flowers!) and french tarragon.  All the others are tough as old boots and come back year on year without my help: fennel, mint, oregano, horseradish. Flat and curly leaved parsley, lemon thyme and sage are still going strong and being regularly used by me and my neighbours which encourages the plants to keep producing and stay healthy.

And the work goes on: I love being outdoors, particularly this week as I have a heavy cold and feel so much better for being outside! I'm gradually getting more raised beds built and filling them with spring plants and strawberries for now - white violas, polyanthus, saffron crocus and dianthus - all edible flowers that will have lettuce sown into the gaps in late spring.  And the next big push will be to decorate the garden a little bit to mark Christmas and the year end.  More next post.

Going home through evening mist.

23 Mar 2013

Welcome to Spring ...

Snowy cowslip

My favourite thing at the weekend is to take five minutes to think through the day ahead before getting out of bed. (Once up, the reality of running a household can derail my objectives so it helps to have a plan already in place.)  Earlier this morning, still in bed, toasty and warm, eyes closed, I could hear that yesterday's gale force freezing winds had died down so the day seemed full of potential.

Having lost all of last weekend to a flu-like virus, I thought of all that could be done over the next two days.  First, I wanted to visit the RHS Grow Your Own show at Wisley, followed by a brisk walk round the gardens.  Second, was to get into the veg garden, dig over and replant the herb bed, plant out the two edible shrubs and raspberry canes recently bought and start to cut back the enormously overgrown shrubs in the middle border. That was enough to be going on with so I got up, full of optimism, and drew the curtains ... to be met with a view of thickly falling snow settling on the hedges.

Yesterday I noticed long drifts of opening daffodils throughout the college grounds in tune with the Spring equinox three days ago.  This morning, Siberian winds have taken the UK back into winter. Surely it's time the wintry weather was over?

Snowy veg patch
I won't be doing any digging today!
I walked down to the garden to take a few snaps for posterity.  There was more slush than snow but freezing easterly winds had created ice drops on the leaf tips of shrubs. Since then it's been snowing heavily all day and is just, mid-afternoon, starting to settle.

Frozen cornus

Out of interest, I looked back over what I'd written in March of previous years.  Last year the weather had become clement enough to have a nine hour tidying stint outdoors; I wrote about planting herbs and that garlic shoots were growing well. In 2011, I was thrilled to discover my pear trees thick with blossom and harvested Romanesco cauliflowers for my supper. 2010 saw the first of my spring posts as we'd started the veg patch in the previous year.  I wrote about my trip to Sarah Raven's Perch Hill farm and Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage, clear blue skies and eating baby spinach, beetroot and spring onions from the garden and seeing the Broccoli Raab florets forming. I remember that the entrance fee to Perch Hill was waived as the garden wasn't as advanced as expected for the time of year and rain had recently fallen so other visitors had a right old time trying to unstick their vehicles from the oozing mud in the car parking field.

I wrote about chilly winds at the beginning of March in all three previous years so perhaps this Spring isn't so different, although I don't think it was this cold.  Could warmer weather be just around the corner for this year as well?  Gosh, I hope so!

Frozen cerinthe
Iced Cerinthe leaves.

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.

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.   

20 Jan 2013

Optimism and seasonality

Catkins
~ 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!


7 Feb 2012

One day winter

Well, it was fun while it lasted. After freezing nights and a great deal of anticipation, our 3 inches of settled snow properly lasted only one day. (Although I may be speaking too soon.)

Yesterday the streets nearby had started to turn to a nasty slush and the air temperature was relatively mild, considering there was thawing snow on the ground.  Who knows what the rest of February has in store? But, just in case that snowfall is all we're having of winter, I thought I'd best take a few snaps for posterity.

Monarda seedhead
~ Monarda seed head against the snow.  The green is fennel. ~

Foxy footprints
~ Footprints show that a fox has visited, as have several little birds. ~
This photo reminds me that I need to cut back my autumn fruiting raspberry canes. This is a job which should be done very soon, otherwise last year's canes will begin to grow and the idea is to have a better harvest by cutting at least half of them back.  (I'm experimenting with a tip to see the difference between cutting some to the ground and leaving some at 40 cm - should give me an earlier crop. )

Winter veg patch
~ The winter veg patch ~
And here's the veg patch in the snow.  Looks a bit of a mess and reminds me that there's a lot of work to be done once the ground thaws. The lovely thing is that if I look back in a few months, this view will have completely changed. I'm thinking about what to plant where in order to make best use of the space and, rather excitingly, our new Director of Housing has said that he's all for expanding the space into a kitchen garden! ... but perhaps I should have got that in writing. The cot sides and trellis panels, by the way, were all found over the summer months discarded by the road and dragged back as quick protection to keep cats out of newly planted beds.  I must plan a way to fix them from toppling over because they do work.

And I couldn't leave this post without a pic of the snowman that the kids made, could I?  This chap was resisting the thaw yesterday and standing guard over the other end of the garden. One benefit of living on an estate where there's plenty of clean snow for building with!

The Snowman
Flowerpot fez, dogwood arms and bark chipping for eyes.
(Coal is a bit hard to come by around here!)
Without wishing to sound too curmudgeonly, I'm quite pleased that the snow has almost gone.  Things are definitely easier without it, although I suppose the children were hoping for a few days off school.  (Our schools remained open, thank goodness.)




5 Feb 2012

That settles it

Finally!  Winter's here, proper snow, face and finger numbing cold, heating on, hot buttered toast (or crumpets) at teatime with a large steaming mug of tea. The sense of anticipation over the last couple of days has been huge;  I felt properly excited at the prospect of wintry weather descending and yesterday evening, sometime around 7 p.m. a light, persistent misting of snow started to fall over north London, leaving a good few inches to wake up to this morning.

Winter, finally.
Seen at Camden Lock Market yesterday afternoon -
the waterbus frozen into its dock.
Now it feels like we're having a proper winter, the traditional seasons have re-asserted themselves and once the February freeze is finished, we can confidently begin the process of nurturing our seeds into life. What a relief.  I hope that doesn't appear churlish; being snuggled within the reaches of an overheated city, I'm relieved to know where I stand, weather wise.  On the other hand, I can fully appreciate that if you're currently cut off from access to the nearest supermarket, you might not see things in the same light.

Recent warm sunny daytime temperatures had prompted thoughts of sowing a few herb seeds on the balcony. Thankfully I resisted.  Instead, last weekend, I successfully split and repotted a floppy supermarket chive plant.  Spring is the time to divide clumps of chives growing outside so I thought why not try this with my windowsill chive?  It was beginning to look very sorry for itself, not far from that moment when you know that your supermarket herb will keel over regardless.  Do or die time, I thought, as I removed the pot.  Have you seen how many bulbs are crammed into one tiny pot? And, bizarrely, it looked as though the roots had been cut off close to the bulbs.  Now, divided into six clumps and repotted into good fresh seed compost, the plants seem much happier and are throwing up flower shoots.  Incidentally, chives grown from seed should be left to grow for a year then moved to their permanent position after frosts have passed.

Chive repotted
~ Divided we stand; united we fall! ~

And the last essential job of the week was to move the veg patch lemon tree.  Poor little thing suffered last year by being exposed to the full blast of winter and dropped all its leaves.  It's pot grown so, this year, I've brought it upstairs to my tiny balcony, a space not much bigger than a metre square, and covered it with fleece protection.  I'm working on the theory that the proximity to the flat creates a sheltered micro-climate for my plants but I'm still going to mulch the roots with straw, just in case!

February is forecast to be typically very cold.  Good.  The soil will be conditioned and soil borne pests and diseases will be zapped by the frost - ready for it all to begin again.  Now, warm wellies on, I'm off to find my straw and check the snow damage in the garden. I hope that all my gardening friends will have heeded weather warnings and been able to protect their plants in time.  Keep warm people!

4 Dec 2011

Walking in a winter wonderland

The veg patch in early December.  As mentioned in yesterday's post, the slow onset of wintry weather has been kind to my veg garden (if not to me - I'm suffering with the beginnings of a winter cold today).

December strawberry
As seen on 2nd December - the last strawberry of the year?
Looking back to this time last year, it seems that I'd run out of things to say (!) and had suspended blogging activity. That probably means that all was quiet on the veg front and I remember that I didn't grow any veg through the winter - even my garlic and onion sets were planted out in the spring.  I recall heavy snowfall over south east England making it challenging to get to a family christening in Kent in early December.  I managed to drive there but was amazed at the sight of snow drifts in Central London and the Kent countryside under a blanket of thick snow!  This year is different.  My chilly, sunny, "winter" walk around the veg garden on Friday showed my echinacea (and primulas) flowering; if that wasn't crazy enough, I also found this just blushing strawberry (a one off feast for the slugs, I expect).

In the herb bed, fresh herbs are still available: sage, parsley, oregano, lemon thyme, fennel.  Nice to be able to put off buying fresh herbs in the shops, although most home-grown herbs can be dried, or frozen in ice cubes, for use in soups and stews throughout the winter. I should really make time to do this.

December Herb collage
Clockwise from top left: sage, fennel, rosemary, oregano with thyme at back
A few other edible treats are keeping the garden alive:  chioggia beetroot, just a couple of sweetcorn cobs (yes, still!), horseradish root (really must dig all this up this year - it's a spreader and will regrow from the smallest root; I want to grow it in very large pots next year as it's a magnificent sight, very structural, but the roots can go very, very deep!) and, hopefully, a few Vivaldi and Charlotte spuds. The potatoes seem to have resprouted after I thought I'd emptied the tub in the summer.  Apparently I overlooked a tuber or two.  I've left them to grow because, well, you never know ... !

December Ready to eat collage
Clockwise from top left: sweetcorn, beetroot, potatoes, horseradish
And that's not all - this year I have my winter veg to look forward to!  I'm hoping for a few Tozer (purple) brussels sprouts before christmas (they're tiny at the moment) then, providing the weather isn't too severe, I'm looking forward to cauliflowers, kale and more sprouts in the springtime.  On a whim in early October, I bought some brassica seedlings then didn't have time to plant them out (this coincided with visits to my mum in hospital).  Not to waste a perfectly good plant, I've popped them into raised beds that I'd previously topped up with well-rotted horse muck or compost and we'll just have to hope for the best. All being well, this will give me some spring cabbages and PSB next year - and I also have a big box of seeds to think about over the coming months.  The winter doesn't seem so long when you still have veg growing!
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