The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gertrude Jekyll

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot
Dreaming of my summer garden

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Goodbye to my gardening companion

I lost my gardening companion this week, my beautiful, funny, affectionate cat Bob. 
He's been a constant in my life for the last 16 years, there to keep an eye on me and bring me joy. I got him in 2001 from Dove Holes cat sanctuary near Buxton when I used to live in Disley. A small male tabby and white cat, they weren't sure of his age but thought he was probably about 1 year old. He was a small cat and always stayed small for a male cat but he could look after himself!! He was certainly very protective of his territory and did get involved in the odd fight and despite his size often won. I hated hearing that sound of cats preparing for a fight outside my bedroom window and often had to go down and out to split them up and move them on. I remember once being woken up in the middle of the night by two cats fighting outside the bedroom window and rushing down in my dressing gown. Then once outside realising that it was not Bob and coming in to find him cuddled up on his chair in the lounge wondering what all the fuss was about!!
In my first house he liked to look out over the garden. Can you spot him on the window ledge? Must have had a head for heights then.
In 2006 I split from my husband and moved to Huddersfield, living on my own for the first time was hard but he was there with me, keeping me company and more importantly cheerful. Happily for me a couple of  years later, Martin came into my life and Bob had a new friend. He was such a friendly cat, very much wanting to be around us. He was very fair with his affections sitting on my knee for a bit then moving onto Martin, spreading his love. If we were in the house he was invariably with us and if I was in the garden he'd always come and find me and sit close by. Though often that was because he was waiting for his tea! My favourite thing in the summer was to get the rug out on the lawn and lay in the sun with Bob snuggling me by my side. He loved being outside in the sunshine. Here he had the whole lawn to sit on but the comfiest spot was my kneeler.
In the summer when he was younger one of his favourite spots was on top of the wheelie bin, when it was being warmed by the sun.
Which was an easy jump onto the shed.
Over his life he's had many favourite seating places, some weirder than others. In the wardrobe, on the wardrobe. 
In the bedding chest.
Under the desk on the computer. On top of the desk when I was trying to work.
 Last summer when it was hot he went through a phase of sleeping on the mat near the front door.
But we had visions of him getting squashed by the post coming in the door so put some things there to try and stop him. This is what he thought of that...
But his two favourite places were on the back of the chair in the lounge where he could get the evening sun and watch the world go by, when he could be bothered.
Or at the back bedroom window in the morning looking out over his domain.
He loved going out in the garden but didn't like it when it snowed.
He was very "helpful" for me around the garden. Helping me chose seeds.
And sowing them...
Helping me pick apples.
Warming the soil in my pots
Then when it all got too much he'd flop on the steps in the sun.
In his younger days he was a bit of a hunter which was a real challenge for me being a bird lover. When I lived in Disley, its semi-rural location meant that I had quite a mixture of presents laid at the door. Lots of mice, one rat which was a bit grim, shrews, voles and sadly two moles. One mole was left almost perfect on the bedroom floor, I don't think they taste nice! Sometimes I managed to save the creatures and many a time I've been searching for mice that had escaped and which had sort refuge under the dresser or the bed. One time I was searching for ages for a mouse that had escaped Bob and raced off the bed. I had the whole bedroom upside down and then found it in a bag that was hanging from the bedpost. Easy to carry it out to safety. It was the birds that I hated him bringing in, not too many luckily, mostly sparrows and the odd bluetit but one time when my mum and dad were visiting he bought in a dove. It was flying round the lounge and in trying to catch it, it flew out of my hand leaving its tail feathers behind. I did manage to get it out safely though. We got him collars with bells on but he was too good a hunter it didn't really stop him. He was also always losing his collars, fighting with other cats most often. But as he got older there was less and less thank goodness.
Doing his best lion pose.
He loved catnip and used to go into wild ecstasy whenever I bought any home. I wanted to grow some Catmint in the garden and tried it many times but it never survived beyond a week with Bob nibbling it. For the last few years my friend has knitted him a catnip toy for Christmas and wrapped it in tissue paper. It was always a treat on Christmas day to see him rip open and go mad over this smell.
The last few years he has slowed down and slept a lot more. He became even more affectionate, coming to sit with you all the time. A constant presence whether he was asleep or stalking you round the house waiting to be fed. He also became more vocal as the years went on. He'd always meiow for his tea and also made a very strange gargling noise when he had bought something in. This noise he developed as he got older and more recently when he came in he would make that noise to catch our attention. I think that was partly because he started losing his hearing and sight, which must have been hard from him, and needed to know where we were. Usually when I came in from work I would hear a thud from upstairs as he heard me and came down for his tea but recently I've had to go right up to him to wake him and for him to realise that I was there. He had slowly got more frail and unsteady on his feet. We had to lift him down from where he had jumped up and he went upstairs less and less. Sadly last week he started to have what we think were mini-strokes and could hardly walk, he recovered a couple of times and we though they were transient episodes but it became clear that these were happening too frequently and finally made the decision that it was kinder for him to be put down. But how hard that was. I do know though that he had a good life and gave back to me and Martin so much love, we are both heartbroken. He will be greatly missed, he was part of our family. The house now is oh so quiet.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!
Here's hoping you had a good Christmas. I've had a lovely relaxing break from work, catching up with friends and family, but also just spending time quietly at home, reading and watching films. A welcome respite from a busy world. I've been sorting out my seeds and planning ahead for the new season.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who will be glad that 2016 is over. Its been a difficult year for me losing my mum and its certainly been an emotional first Christmas without her. I've been getting out in the garden when the weather has permitted. The joy of walking round the quiet garden in winter is the waiting for all my winter treasures to start emerging or flowering. The first shoots of the snowdrops and keeping an eye on my witch hazel in the front garden. Its just starting to unfurl its spidery vibrant orange flowers My snowdrops are starting to peek up out of the soil and there are thick buds on the Hellebores, the winter plants are starting to get into gear. Its a joy to see. The year gets marked by my favourite plants of the season. The anticipation is half the pleasure, but I just find myself thinking I must tell mum about that, we both loved telling each other about the new signs of the new year. 
I've managed to get up to the allotment a couple of days, enjoying the fresh air and the quiet. I'm still busy clearing and tidying. I've harvested most of the leeks now and some parsnips, and have still got some sprouts to pick. Some of my bulbs are coming up there too, some Camassias and some of the alliums. It won't be long, enjoy this quiet time, the mad days of Spring will soon be here. 
In the garden the birds are back on mass especially the sparrows, barging and bumping each other off the feeders, the blackbirds are about and my Robin is back visiting. I love to go out and just wait a few minutes and then hear his delicate warbling song coming from the Rhododendron or his perch on the apple tree.
I want to wish all my gardening friends and bloggers a very Happy New Year, I love reading all about your growing year, the places you visit and the plants that you love. Here's to a peaceful and productive 2017. May all your gardening dreams come true.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

A cracker of a cut flower

So as the year draws to a close did you know that 2016 was the year of the Cosmos. It always makes me laugh these sorts of titles. The year of..... how do they come up with them all. You might also want to know that 2016 was the year of Pulses. It was also the year of the English Garden, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of 'Capability' Brown. If you look on Google there are lots of other 'Years of'!
But back to the Cosmos and if I wanted to pick a cut flower that was one of the best performers in my cutting patch then you couldn't go far wrong with Cosmos.
I'm reviewing how my cutting patch has been this year and starting to plan what I'm going to grow next year and the Cosmos has been such a success for the last few years that I wanted to write about it here. They are such long flowering plants, they are quick growing and so start flowering in July and mine went on into late November this year and you can really just keep cutting them and they send up new flowering stems. They are half-hardy annuals and so shouldn't be started too early. In my experience they almost germinate over night and spring up into biggish seedlings in no time at all. So either sow in modules or thinly in seed trays and prick out as soon as you can. You can pinch out the top leaves once big enough to get nice bushy plants. You need to time your seed sowing with your area so that you can harden them off and plant out after the frosts have passed. Another important thing I've learnt is to give them plenty of space as they are big plants and can be a bit bullyish so keep away from more delicate plants in your cutting patch. They prefer a sunny spot as do most annuals. The taller ones could maybe benefit from some support, but mine have tended to support each other.
There are so many colours to choose from, from soft pastel shades to dark purples and reds, plus lovely white varieties, such as 'Purity'. You also can get a mix of flower types now, the classic single flower with the large yellow flower centre. The Sensation varieties tend to be taller varieties compared to the Sonata ones, which are often called dwarf varieties. I have to say I prefer the taller ones for the cutting patch but I can imagine the the dwarfer ones would do well in containers as bedding plants.  But then you also get double flowers, Collarette types which have extra frills of petals at the centre, Sea shell type ones which have fluted petals round the central yellow boss and Picotee types which darker edges to the flowers.
As well as having lovely flowers it also has lovely filligree ferny foliage which is a lovely foil for the flowers.
One of the other huge pluses for this flower is that the bees love it too. Sometimes when I'm picking cosmos and walking round the plot I'm followed around by the bees! I have to make sure none are on the flowers before I put them into my car!

So any negatives?  I honestly can't think of many, the newly planted seedlings can be susceptible to slugs but not as bad as some other annuals in my experience. To reduce the effects of slugs I tend to grow my plants on till they are quite big and then plant them out when they are stronger, more robust plants. But other than that they are not troubled by any other pests of diseases. You need to keep picking them to keep them flowering, oh the hardship of picking these lovely flowers. But I guess if you are not growing them for cutting then you would have to deadhead them regularly.
This year I grew a few different varieties, 'Sensation Mixed', which has tall single flowers, 'Candy Stripe' which has pale pink flowers with a darker pink edge, 'Purity' the classic white flowered Cosmos and 'Click Cranberries' which has dark carmine pink flowers and sort of semi-double flowers. I've also in the past grown a vibrant orange variety called 'Diablo' which was less good for cutting but was great in the garden. I'm looking at new varieties to try this year, Chiltern seeds in their preview catalogue have a lovely semi-double white flowered Cosmos called 'Fizzy White' which has white frills round the yellow centre. A pale pink delicate looking flower called 'Cosimo Collarette'. Plants of Distinction have a variety called 'Antiquity' which is a deep red/pink with a darker coloured red going down to the centre. There is also an unusual yellow variety called 'Xanthos' which I was introduced to by Flighty on his blog, which I definitely mean to try.
They combine well here with Dahlias, Feverfew and Scabious, but I've also combined it well with Clary sage, Ammi, Cornflowers and Nigella. Its a real star of any bouquet.
So there you are get growing them I urge you, they are easy from seed, long-flowering, lovely foliage, nice long stems for cutting. So if you are starting to plan your seed orders for next year then I'd definitely recommend them. Good seed suppliers of Cosmos varieties include Plants of Distinction, Chiltern seeds, Higgeldy Garden and Sarah Raven.

Friday, 2 December 2016

First snow and some garden thugs

Well no sooner had a written about a calm autumn when there was all change and it feels like its been a very blustery, cold, grey end to November. We have had our first snow of the year, in fact two lots, none lasting for much more than a day but very early even for here in Huddersfield.

It was unusual to see snow on the last of the stunning red leaves of my Japanese Maples.
My two Japanese Maples have been fabulous this year, the best colour they've ever been.
Just had a beautiful moment while writing this blog, was just looking out of the window, I get easily distracted, and a tiny wren came and clung to the wall at the side of my window and looked in at me! Its hard to say who was the most surprised. Ah, what a treat you usually hear wrens rather than see them.
Anyway where was I...
Yes autumn colour has been great, but most leaves have fallen now and shrubs and trees are bare, though I have got a deciduous azalea in my garden which has vibrant orange flowers in the spring and has now dark red almost purple leaves on.
Over the autumn I have been battling with some of the thugs that have taken over my front garden and been doing some severe editing. I used to love Alchemilla mollis and in early summer when it has those sharp acid green flowers which look great it bouquets then I love it all over again but it likes my garden too much and seeds everywhere. I don't just mean a few here and then, it pops up everywhere like when you used to sow cress on a tissue at school. The seedlings aren't too hard to remove but I've got heavy clay soil in my garden and as soon as the plants get to certain size then the roots just seem to get wedged in the clay and they are really hard to dig up. 
Another self-seeder in my garden is the Aquilegia but I mostly tolerate that one, though it can get a bit out of hand. I'm going to wait till spring for this one now and see what comes up and have a proper clear of some plants then. 
Another spreader which needs a bit of editing every now and again is the low-growing Saxifraga x urbium or London Pride. It had spread over quite an area but this is easy to dig up and can spread it around a garden. From a quick Google search I learnt why it is called London Pride. Apparantly it was a plant that spread and colonised bomb sites after the Second World War and said to represent the resilience of London after the Blitz. Its one of those plants that many gardens have but they've probably never bought it, its a plant for passing onto other gardeners!! I know I got mine from my mum and its great for the edge of the borders, with its evergreen succulent foliage and then has a haze of pretty pink flowers in the late spring.
I also gave the heave-ho to a Crocosmia 'Meteore' which just seems to just be all leaf and no flower and was spreading into massive clumps at a rate of knots. I know for definite that I will not have got out all the tiny corms so will have to go back to those spots and dig out any more that come up but I've got the biggest clumps out. I think the soil is just too rich for them and the leaves develop rather than the flowers. 
Anyway after all that digging up, weeding and tidying I had some bare soil and so I emptied the compost bin and spread it out over the top all over the front garden, which will hopefully help the soil structure. I also planted lots of Allium bulbs so it should look nice in the spring and I can add some less thuggish perennials then too. So looking forward to a purple spring.

Finally its the countdown to Christmas now and while sorting out my mums things this year we found this advent calendar which we all remember well from our childhood. It came out every year along with the dodgy decorations which we had made for the tree. Much nicer than the chocolate throwaway ones you get now. Its probably at least 40 years old. An antique advent calendar. Brings back lots of happy memories.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

A calm autumn

I've been loving this extended settled weather, we have had lots of sunshine and calm days with a bit of rain here and there. There has been the odd cold night but until this week not really that winter chill. Looking at the weather forecast though looks like that could soon change. But in other words its been almost perfect weather and my cut flower patch has been reinvigorated with a second flush of flowering by many of the annuals which were flagging a bit. Having cut them back quite hard I've had second flushes of Calendula's and Californian poppies, also from Nigella and the vibrant blue Clary sage. Then there are some flowers that have just gone on and on, like the Scabious and Cosmos, they have been fabulous. I've also grown a lovely single Dahlia this year which has been vibrant and flowered well with the Cosmos. It is called 'Bright Eyes' which I bought from Sarah Raven.

Regarding the veggies on my plot I've planted my overwintering onions which have all got going well. I'm growing the red onion 'Electric' and then a variety called 'Senshu Yellow' both reliable and easy to grow. They can look a bit battered after a hard winter especially if we have snow but a bit of a extra feed of fish, blood and bone in the spring soon gets them going again. I'm wondering whether to even bother with a maincrop onion next year as these last well for me too and with my shallots I have onions to last me all year almost. The garlic is in the ground too. I'm growing some more elephant garlic and then two other varieties which I'm not sure of the cultivar names now. I'm just splitting some of the garlic that I grew myself this year rather than buying in a new bulb. I need to look back and get their names though as I've been a bit neglectful at labelling. Here are the onions growing either side of my parsnips, again an unnamed variety collected from a plant that was allowed to seed. They were nice big parsnips and the great thing about collecting seed is you have loads and can sow lots of this sometimes difficult to germinate crop. I plan to allow one of these to flower and set seed again as parsnip seed doesn't keep very well.
I've also been harvesting some cauliflowers, now I've often struggled with this as a crop and I know lots of people do. I often get the white curd developing but then it gets damaged or goes off-coloured. They often need protecting by folding the leaves around to protect the developing head. Anyway this year I tried a variety called 'Di Sicilia Violetto' from Suttons which I bought in the half price seed sale at my local garden centre. It is, as its name suggests, a variety from Sicily and is said to be winter hardy. It is said to produce side shoots after you pick the main head so I will see if any develop. I've found this a lot easier but maybe that is because we have had good weather when the curd was developing. Anyway, I've still got a few more to come, the florets turn green when cooked. I will hopefully grow this variety again next year
In the Brassica bed I still have some calabrese 'Marathon' which I'm still harvesting the side shoots from. I also have some sprouts, I've grown the purple sprouts that I grew last year, though these have stayed very short this year and I'm not sure why. I'm also trialling a new crop called Flower Sprouts, which are a cross between a Brussel sprout and kale. These have grown well and are just starting to develop the 'sprouts', so more about these later in the year. 
Another winter crop are leeks and they are doing well, though I've not got as many as I'd normally grow as they got eaten by slugs in the seed tray! But I managed to salvage some. These are a heritage variety called 'Walton Mammoth' which I'm loving the blueness of. I often get some rust on my leeks but these look to be clear of that which is great, they've certainly developed quickly into a thick stem as I was a bit late transplanting these this year. I must write about my experimenting with a few Heritage varieties this year.
So things are looking set for a good crop of vegetables over the winter though one crop that I'm really missing this year is Kale, I usually have a few varieties but I especially love the Cavolo Nero variety. But the slugs put paid to my whole crop this year which is really frustrating and with everything going on this year I wasn't organised enough at the time to resow. Oh well you win some and you lose some.
The nasturtiums continue to take over and hide my pile of cutdown thick stems from last season. There is a mix of varieties now from vibrant orange to dark brown, and look so lovely when backlit my sunshine with dewdrops glistening.

I'm making the most of them as with the frosts forecast for this week I fear they will soon be gone.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

A tour of .......Arlington Court

A belated post about a visit to the National Trust property Arlington Court on our recent holiday in Devon in September. Two areas stood out for me on this visit, one was the hot border in the Victorian garden and the other was the walled kitchen garden. I always seem to find a walled garden on my holidays and this year I found two, more of the other one in a separate post.
There are two main gardens on this estate, a Victorian garden which leads then into the walled garden. The Victorian garden is as your might expect very formal with bedding and ornate climbing structures. There were lots of Senecio cineraria the silver leaved bedding plant and begonia's galore. Not really my thing, certainly of its time, but there was a fabulous border running along the right edge of the Victorian garden.

It was a fabulous example of a hot border, and certainly at its peak when we visited. But there was one glaring anomaly can you spot it on the view looking back across at it.
Yes a great big blowsy pale insipid Hydrangea right in the middle of this stunning border.
It was definitely the odd one out on this border that was otherwise zinging with colour and vibrancy. So lets ignore that and look a bit closer at the planting which was largely half-hardy annuals, Dahlias, Cannas and bedding. There were sunflowers, Tithonia, Salvias, Rudbeckias all jostling and mingling with vibrant, colour clashing joy.

This is a lovely combination, the true blue of Salvia patens with the big almost green-black leaves of the Ricinus communis (the castor oil plant) and at the bottom the cherry-pie scented Heliotrope with its dark purple flowers.
Then moving into a yellow medley.
There were some lovely Dahlia's

The butterflies were enjoying the single-flowered varieties.
There was one annual which I didn't recognise which looked like a nice flower for cutting with also interesting buds.
I've actually recently spotted this in the Chiltern seeds preview catalogue which popped through my door this week. Its called Hibiscus trionum 'Simply Love', what a lovely name. So that will be going in my order for next year's cutting patch I think.
You move into the walled garden from the Victorian garden and its a perfect site for growing vegetables.
Covering one acre, it is south-facing and has good free-draining soil which they improve using seaweed from nearby Ilfracombe. They look to be pretty organic in their methods, using barrier methods to protect crops from pests, they rotate their crops to prevent any specific pest build-up and also to prevent exhaustion of nutrients from the soil. Where they do have pest problems they use organic methods of control such as insecticidal soaps and pheromone traps. They also encourage beneficial insects using companion planting and the placement of various bug hotels such as this fabulous one.

You could see the difference down in the south compared to my plot in Huddersfield with the squash, sprouts and other crops all at at an earlier stage than mine.

They had a few beds of flowers for cutting.
They had big areas for growing squashes and pumpkins.

 Beautiful archways for apples and a lot of espaliers on the walls themselves,.
I was talking in my previous post about a bird 'pest' which was eating some of my crops. Here is the bird pest at Arlington, a little bit bigger, but I think it does cause a few problems eating the crops and grubbing up the soil. Beautiful though. Look at that blue, looking good against the glaucous blue of the leeks!
From here we went on a walk through the woods and came across so woolly creatures.
 Some more bizarre than others.
There were owls, birds, bats, hedgehogs, mice, all shapes and sizes!
Some flowers too.
A lovely robin
 These were the Woollen woods, which is a regular event I gather in the autumn. Where local knitters, crocheters and felters make some pieces for display on the trail much loved by kids.