Architectural Exotics

One of my favourite plants is the huge aeonium or tree leek that I bring into the glasshouse each winter.

It looks fabulous in its pot against the flint wall.

It’ll soon be time to take it outside.

Three or four years ago a wisteria branch fell on it and several of the fleshy rosettes and their twisted branches were damaged so I cut them off and stuck them in compost filled pots and lo and behold they struck and rooted.

They all sold at one of our charity garden openings on a makeshift plant stall I set up.

So recently I decided to propagate a few more and couple of days after we transferred the mature plant to a new and larger terracotta pot I pruned four of the smaller lower offshoots.

This time I left the cut ends to “heal” or dry and today I potted them up in compost.

This time I’m going to grow them on and keep them in pots then dot them through the borders as an interesting focal point – a tip of Jimi Blake’s of Hunting Brook Gardens in Ireland.

My dahlias have gone into pots to get them started before planting out in May after the last frosts. I’m going to take cuttings beforehand to increase my stock for cut flowers and make a better display  in the borders this year. I’m growing Karma Choc, Karma Naomi, Apricot Desire and my favourite Thomas Edison saved from last year.

The purple ones are Thomas Edison

Another dramatic sub tropical plant I’m going try out in the border this year is an echium pininana that a friend, Max, gave me as a tiny seedling last year.

They can grow into towering spikes many feet tall covered in tiny purplish blue flowers and self seed profusely. They’re also known as Tower of Jewels.

And the mimosa tree in the Secret Garden is in flower now.

The mimosa behind the old mulberry tree is set off perfectly by the daffodils in the foreground

We’ve just re-staked it as the trunk was rubbing against the old support and it was no longer upright. Now when you look out of the window you can the bright yellow frothy clusters of flowers above the dark green yew hedge that divides the main garden.

I hope to use some in my ikebana arrangements which I’m still doing weekly with my teacher, Junko.

A close up of the mimosa in full bloom

Here’s a couple I did last week – one using forsythia, hellebores and phormium leaves.

The other is different coloured hellebores and some more phormuim leaves.

 

 

I hope you enjoy them.

 

 

 

 

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Essential Pruning

Today we pruned all the fruit bushes.

They included blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries.

The only tree I won’t prune until the early summer is the damson which could succumb to silver leaf disease if tackled earlier in the season.

The main reasons for pruning are to keep your plants healthy and free from pests and to produce good sized, tasty fruit.

Sarah had already pruned the apple and pear trees.

So Alex and I cut back the congested centres of the fruit bushes leaving them goblet shaped and airy.

One of five blackcurrants we pruned

We did the goosegobs first. The main leaders of each branch were reduced by a quarter to an outward or upward facing bud – we then cut back the laterals or side shoots on each branch to the second or third bud, again looking for an outward or upward facing one.

The blackcurrants were also opened up and lot of weak and criss crossing stems were removed at the base in the centre with very sharp secateurs or long handled loppers – with black currants you take out the darker older stems to leave the younger paler ones that will go on to give you this year’s harvest of pure vitamin C!

I made a complete mess of the redcurrants last year and had a very poor harvest…like gooseberries they fruit on older wood – the opposite of blackcurrants! So today I cut back lots of young sappy growth in the middle of the bush to leave some darker stronger stems that are two or more years old and which will hopefully be more productive this year!!

We also cut all the autumn fruiting raspberries to the ground. But their summer fruiting cousins were treated differently; we took out the old paler canes at the base leaving the new ones to grow on. They’ll soon be tied in to the wires that run the length of the bed to support them. A couple of them are broken and need replacing – another job for next week!

The old frame had become fragile and rickety

Finally we removed the old frame that’s served as a support for the thornless blackberry in the middle of the orchard and replaced it with a new one made from a mixture of hazel poles, wooden stakes and bamboo canes.

We cut back the old blackberry shoots that fruited last year and have tied in the two new healthy ones to our revamped structure.

The new frame which needs a few more lateral supports tied or woven in

We’ve also removed quite a few suckers that tend to revert to the wild blackberry – they were covered with spiny thorns that would make it hard to harvest the luscious black fruit at the height of summer.

All in all a very satisfying day’s work that will hopefully yield some good fruit.

To top it all in off we had leek and potato soup for supper.

The leeks – a variety called Bleu de Solaise – are stunning and remain unaffected by frost or rust.

 

 

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Contraction and Expansion

Can you feel the earth, air and temperature around us contracting and expanding?

It’s like this part of the planet is taking deep breaths and waking up.

Here the mercury is rising and sinking to between minus two and 18 celsius.

I haven’t got a thermometer by the way, that was just metaphorical.

But the wild swings in temperature are real and I also feel as if I’m stretching and contracting between the deep inactivity of winter and the first stirrings of spring.

Walking through Buckenham Woods with my friend, Gel and her dog, Tom, who is older (in dog years) and even more doddery than I am – soon this will be a carpet of bluebells

I’ve been on a couple of short walks and last Tuesday, with lots of help from my friend Alex, prepped two of the four main veg beds by hoeing the few weeds there were and laying a very thin two centimetre layer of homemade compost on top.

This is the joy of “no dig”; low maintenance and a healthy soil. We have, as you can see, some nice white peacock kale and purple sprouting broccoli as well as some self sown herba stella and claytonia or winter purslane which is good in salad.

I finally sowed my broad beans in home made compost – one seed per module.

I’ve succumbed again to germinating a few tomato seeds (Baby Plum and Tigerella) I saved from last year’s crop and some Lemon Drop Chilli which should bear a fragrant citrus flavoured fruit that is very tasty and adds a zing to salsas.

The seed I’m using was saved from these “Lemon Drop” chillis a couple of years ago

I was given some Candy Tot and Tumbling Tigress tomatoes but because I am not sure if they’re an F1 variety or not I’m holding back on sowing them as they may not come true.

I was a little disappointed in the crimson flowered broad bean seed – there were only 32 in the packet – normally you get at least 40

Seeds should be planted at a depth twice their size; so I pushed in the bean seed fairly deep and covered it. Then in another half of the tray I scattered the tiny tomato and chilli seeds three to a module on the surface of the compost and covered with a very thin layer of the same.

You can see tiny tomato seeds which I then covered with a little compost and watered in with a fine rose watering can so as not to disturb the compost too much

I’ve brought them into the warm laundry to get them started.

Our gardener, Sarah, is back after a winter break and has pruned the apple and pear trees which now have much more light after the removal of the Bramley apple tree and a Victoria plum tree next to it. Both were diseased and, despite previous attempts, were beyond help.

The prunings have gone on the new dead hedge which is filling up fast.

I’ve been enjoying more Ikebana (Japanese style flower arranging).

Just walking around to select the material I’m going to use has given me a new appreciation of the garden.

 

The daffodils are just about to burst into flower and the snowdrops are still holding their own – a couple of weeks after first opening their little white and green petals. How they managed to survive the cold snap two weeks ago when we had snow and temperatures as low as minus ten I’ll never know!

These daffs under the mulberry tree will put on a great show in a week or so’s time

It’s heartening to see more ladybirds than ever before as well as lots of bees and other pollinators starting to explore the garden and feed.

The secretive dunnocks have come out from their hiding places and are sitting on top of the long, high holly hedge.

They’re belting out their short, rapid, squeaky song and mating.

Apparently they can do this up to 100 times a day!

That’s a sure sign spring is on its way.

 

 

 

 

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That Compost Glow

There’s nothing like homemade compost to make plants glow and grow!

It’s the foundation for nutrient rich fruit and vegetables.

An inch or so spread on all the beds once a year is like waving a magic wand.

Hey presto!

Sweet orange carrots; deep vibrant green, purple and white cabbage, kale and broccoli; pink passion ruby chard; vigorous herbs and delicate lime green lettuces.

The veggies really do glow like jewels in the low winter light.

The compost making is less glamorous but just as satisfying!

Every year at about this time I empty and remake the main heap nearest the house.

Last year, Fynn came over from northern Germany to visit and helped me.

This year Alex dug out the “black gold”.

This is the really fine stuff from the bottom of the heap which I will use mixed with leaf mould and sharp sand for potting compost

Then when the bay was empty she helped me combine and consolidate material from the other heaps nearby.

We layered brown woody stuff like spent bean vines and half rotted woodchip with nitrogen rich greens like grass cuttings, chopped up comfrey leaves and vegetable peelings.

Comfrey growing near the compost bay is “harvested” two or three times a year and used as an activator in the heap

This time I remembered to sprinkle each layer with QR activator – a biodynamic powder made of dried plants/herbs mixed vigorously with water.

No, it’s not wee! It’s Quick Results activator

The last time I used this it really did seem to speed up the composting process.

Unfortunately you can’t buy it from Chase Organics anymore as the company was taken over by a bigger concern so I’ve sent off to France for some biodynamic compost preparations which I’ll try out next time.

Jonathan was scarifying the lawn so we used the grass cuttings as part of the mix. This coming week I’ll add a lot more material brought up from the heap at the orchard end of the garden.

The new heap is already warm and toasty.

It’s shrunk somewhat as the billions of organisms get to work decomposing and transforming the material into the rich dark compost that we’ll  dig out and use in a year’s time.

 

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Ready for Winter

Alex came today.

We put fleece over the landcress, pak choi, mustards and Chinese cabbage.

I use the 35g one which is slightly thicker than the usual horticultural fleece – it seems to keep the frost at bay.

Things won’t grow that much over winter but they’ll really put on some growth after Christmas as the days get longer and there’s more light.

These are white kale, Peacock F1 variety. My friend Lawrence sent me the seeds in the post.

We tidied up the kale and red cabbage removing any yellowing or dead leaves from the plants and the ground around them – it helps stop whitefly and aphids.

We also re-staked the red cabbage and harvested some of the cavolo nero (black Tuscan kale) and the showstopping white kale.

I picked some of the carrots that are interplanted with the red cabbage.

They’re doing really well under the enviromesh with little sign of carrot fly, in fact they are some of the best I’ve ever grown.

They make up for the ongoing failure of my beetroot – the roots get nibbled when young but I can’t work out what’s inflicting the damage.

Enriching the earth

Alex moved the compost that’s ready to be laid around the apples and pear trees.

She started weeding around them but the wasps feeding on the windfalls were getting agitated so she stopped.

We’ll do more weeding next week and then lay the compost down.

While she was doing that I pulled up my cucumber plants and harvested the last dozen or so.

Next – the tomatoes were for the chop!

They lasted a long time but were finally showing signs of blight so I cut them down too and am trying to ripen them off the vine in a brown paper bag with a banana!

The pile on the right weren’t wasted – they went into a wonderful minestrone that had fennel, kale and carrot in it as well as celery and tomatoes

 

I also began harvesting my black beans – the first time I’ve grown them.

Some of them had gone mouldy from the wet weather we’ve had.

I prefer to dry them on the vine but I picked as many as looked ready – to stop yet more of them getting damaged.

They are now on a tray drying.

These are from a couple called Nicky and Graham Elliot who showed the Norfolk Organic Group round their smallholding on the Waveney Valley last year

They are a shiny midnight blue – I can’t wait to cook them later this winter.

One of my friends suggested this recipe.

I’ve also re-staked the bean plants ,which are a vigorous dwarf variety called Canterbury Black, so that the remainder that aren’t quite ready to pick get a bit more air to them – then there’s less chance of them becoming soggy and rotting in the pod.

I’ve also grown Czar Runners mainly as huge white butter beans – but they’re also delicious when younger and more tender as a runner bean.

We had some runners tonight for supper alongside a simple tomato and cucumber salad and a potato and red onion salad using some Anya and Pink Fir Apple I still have in the pantry.

This week I’ll start remaking the big compost pile nearest the house layering homemade woodchip, grass cuttings, comfrey leaves and spent vegetable plants with a little compost activator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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