End of Month View June 2016: hope feels a long way away even though it’s only fifteen miles

The solstice might seem an arbitrary point in the modern calendar, but to plants it’s all too crucial: the inversion of changes in daylight length cause leaf crops to bolt, and garlics to cease swelling their bulbs. How we garden ends up changing gradually too. In which case, now we’ve passed midsummer, I want to use this End of Month View to take stock of what’s happened in the garden so far this season.

I can’t say I’m in the best of moods at the moment, and looking back on the first eight months of the new garden, there’s a lot to be disappointed with: the landscaping is stalled, logjammed even; few cuttings have rooted (there’s more dead buddleia, which I didn’t even have the heart to report); and I’ve never experienced a season in which so much has been eaten by pests.

Well over half of the leaf crops, and all of the carrot seedlings, have disappeared. Even broadbean leaves and ornamentals have been grazed, and sometimes stripped bare. That combined with my inability to make large-scale changes that might dry out the garden and protect the crops has been completely demoralizing.

But hope springs eternal. Here’s what hope looks like:


Not the nearby Peak-District village, but lettuce seedlings. Sown after midsummer, they’ll either bolt to blazes, or they’ll actually get confused, and not bolt at all (this does happen with coriander, I think.) But I just have to hope, because I don’t have much else left.

Well, I do still have two sage cuttings from my forays with Grow Sheffield, and five squash seedlings:




After these photos, I put water bottles in the two large tubs, to permit watering the roots without rotting off the stems. Shortly after that, one of the two squash seedlings was consumed completely, down to a stump.

However, at least the Tiarella “Sugar and Spice” has bounced back from being eaten:


The Cirsium rivulare (Atropurpureum) has done too, although it’s still missing all except one flower spike:


The Geum “Prinses Juliana” behind it is apparently inedible. Meanwhile, the Impatiens omeiana “Pink Nerves” has recovered to about the point where I originally bought it:


Shortly after this photo, it went back under cover, having started to be eaten again.

Miraculously, the two lots of peas “Latvian” have not just thrived in themselves, but also protected the lettuce “Buttercrunch” underneath them:


They’ve also just started flowering the most gorgeous claret-and-geranium-coloured flowers:


Rainbow chard and Salvia “Ember’s Wish” are doing OK:


And this random rose—which I saw elsewhere, so more about later—makes me think of candyfloss and strawberry Chewits:


Finally, we’re having to trim our hedges, even though many of them are to be removed eventually. They’re just out of control. So I took the opportunity to turn our once-square-blocky front hedge into a vaguely topiarized chain of more interesting bobbly bits:


I’ve had this go-with-the-flow idea for trimming in the back of my head, ever since Monty Don tried his hand at a bit of topiary in Big Dreams: Small Spaces this year. In the programme, he suggested to a wannabe gardener (both of them with shears in their hands) that she should try to cut the long priet hedge in the shape it wanted to be cut, rounding it off whenever it felt right to do so, rather than trying to turn it into a geometric, straight-edged wall of green.

“If it’s going to end up looking like a caterpillar,” I think Monty said, “then so be it.”

So be it.

(Thanks to Helen Johnstone for hosting the EOMV meme.)


Gardens by the sea at Cleethorpes

For our anniversary, the Welsh Rose and I went to Cleethorpes. British seaside towns take an awful lot of undeserved flak and jeers; but neither of us fly, for moral/environmental reasons; and besides it’s looking like a busy rest of month for us: so an overnight stay at the seaside seemed like just the ticket.

The gardens at Cleethorpes are a combination of traditional soft landscaping (mostly bedding plants) with stand-out contemporary sculptures and perennial beds. They extend from the station down to a swimming pool on the coast, after which there’s a large boating lake set back from the shifting sandflats.

After a freezing-cold first day, we woke up to a much warmer start, with even occasional spells of sunshine, which set the first set of perennial gardens off really nicely:


The main pleasure garden, after the station square, begins with these were planted on the south-west side of a high wall:



This protects from the worst northerlies and salt spray coming in from the sea. They’re planted up by volunteers from nearby Beacon Hill allotments, to show the mixture of perennials, vegetables and even fruit trees that can cope with the surroundings given a bit of protection. This is apparently a Lincolnshire-style picket fence:


It’s very nice, but I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference a number of different styles came up on Pointless, labelled A to E.

Swathes of bedding and elegant spiral topiary:


There’s even a maze, which was big enough for us to get lost in it:


Long vistas along the gardens include this… laurel oak? Planted by Acordys Acrylic Fibres in memory of all the workers of the world killed at work:



Quercus laurifolia would make sense if Acordys were a transatlantic company, but it seems to be entirely absent from Google so I can’t really say.

A thin stretch of bedding arrangements proceeds from that garden to the leisure centre, with smashing sculptures by Rachel McWilliam:




I love the way her sculptures use a very heavy, stiff material (the metal) to represent billowing, airy objects.

This bed of perennials caught my attention, including hostas thriving in arid, baking conditions:



There was also an ornamental water feature, dedicated to Princess Di:


With some irony, presumably, as the Rose told me Diana had always professed to dislike fountains as they made her want to wee. More interestingly, the statue in the centre is one of several copies made of “The Boy With the Leaking Boot”, a local landmark originally installed in Cleethorpes by an immigrant shipping magnate in 1918. John Carlbom himself disowned any deeper meaning, but others have suggested plenty.

We moved on the coast but sadly, as we were busy actually boating, we have no picture of the boating lake as such; just some geese:


The lake was lovely and cool, on what was turning into a hot day, but horticulturally not particularly exciting. The sandflats beyond the sea walls and dunes were more interesting, with their open, eerie flatness and a sandbar in the distance hiding all but the sea’s crashing roar. But that didn’t photograph well at all: it takes a better photographer than me to make a drama out of flat.

Better to experience it yourselves, if you can: just head towards the sand, the sea and the wide horizon!



Drilling holes into a pot, after it’s been filled

Having never bought pots without holes in them before—still not understanding, to be honest, the point of them—I’d already potted up two big (50cm across at the top) pots with broad beans before realizing that they were starting to get waterlogged in bad weather.

Not wanting to lose the beans, or to have to repot them (I have nowhere to do it, for a start) then I decided I might try drilling the pots with the plants in situ. But how to do so, without ending up covering myself and my electric drill in water and mud?

Here’s the result of my attempts, in one of the two pots:


You can see I made a small initial drainage hole on the side. Doing this really helped avoid getting a considerable amount of foul-smelling water on the drill’s electrics! I then tipped the pots slightly towards this hole, to let as much water drain out as possible, before tipping them quite sharply in the opposite direction to drill the three holes underneath.

The soil has started to dry out completely in a few days: while I won’t be watering them yet, it’s a relief now to know that the roots will be getting a little air, and hopefully no rot.

First produce from the garden! Lettuce “Buttercrunch”

Despite much of our garden starting to look like a building site (I missed End of Month View, partly for that very reason) we’re already getting the first fruits of my

Those of you who would argue that Lettuce “Buttercrunch” is a leaf and not a fruit:


You’re all just haters. Like the dew on a just-picked leaf of green goodness, I shake you off!

Very quick End of Month View May 2016

It doesn’t really count as a full EOMV post, but here’s a review of what’s flowering in our garden at the moment, in a single vase!


The Tulipa “Antoinette” dominates the centre, with its flowers having turned slowly from a lemon-drizzle yellow to this gorgeous raspberry-cherry pink. Around it are red Valerian flowers, blue Centaurea montana, and an orange Geum “Prinses Juliana” off to the left. Below are a Choisya ternata, variety unknown, and the flowers of some variegated shrub that looked completely uninteresting until it produced them!

The garden as a whole is a confusing mixture of the pretty and the ugly at the moment, as we await landscaping work and tidying up of next door. But this vase hopefully captures some of the beauty in it, the diamonds that are easy to find in the rough.

It was the best of cutting; it was the worst of cutting

I’m terrible at cuttings. Remember the buddleia cuttings I made, in anticipation of our landscaping work? I killed them both: one never took; one seemed to be going OK, but it turns out the Welsh Rose and I were both separately watering it, and I think that did for the new roots.

Who kills buddleia? Who manages that? Me, it turns out.

With that in mind, it was with both hope and trepidation that I went to a workshop on propagation held by Grow Sheffield at the Union Street co-working cooperative: hope, that our tutor James might pass on some useful knowledge to make my cuttings succeed; but trepidation, that no advice might ever be enough to defeat my brown thumbs in this particular aspect of gardening.

A couple of weeks later, how are my Salvia cuttings from the workshop doing? Not too badly, with perky leaves and some (slow) new top growth:


What did I do differently? Well, I didn’t bother putting any plastic bags over the pots; and I’ve rapidly moved the healthy-looking plants onto the front windowsill, without a saucer under them, to stop me doting on them and thus drowning them. And I didn’t pull as many leaves off as I would normally, which is definitely a risky strategy: reducing water loss, but also reducing the plant’s capacity to bounce back.

But given all of these things should have made them more likely to wilt, not less: what did I do differently in their favour? The only thing I can think of is: I cut at a stem node, and at a sharp angle, exposing as much of the cambium and pith as possible. I’ve been told by others that this shouldn’t make a big difference, but it makes sense to me: these materials contain meristematic cells which, like node or bud cells, can sprout into growth as non-stem plant organs when stimulated, and thus potentially produce roots.

My gut feeling is that, when you try to propagate from cuttings, there are many factors that can improve the chances of success but no silver bullet. It’s almost a case of “here’s a list of ten factors: pick six;” although not quite as straightforward as that, because some are more important than others, and there’s no single objective ranking of those factors. Maybe I’ve picked a key factor for my own personal cutting-propagating style. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Anyway, here are this weekend’s cuttings on the left, next to my old, dying ones on the right:


I call this particular piece “The Buddleia Cuttings of Dorian Grey.” I’ll move the pot on the right up into the attic next weekend!