Monday, 21 May 2012

Mid May snapshots

I really must write something soon. But for now, some more pictures.

One thing I love about a garden is seeing what comes back each year. I planted these alliums (A. 'Purple Giant', if I remember correctly) a few years ago now - and each year, the clump returns, with an extra flower head. There are two other kinds in the garden (excluding the edibles - the chives in particular are almost identical, albeit a lot smaller), 'Purple Sensation', which is taller, more slender, and slightly redder, and A. cristophii, which is a huge metallic starburst. I can't have too many of them - they are perfect flowers, hiding most of the year, popping up of their own accord, needing no help, and floating their striking blooms above the garden, without blocking the view.

Calendula! Another winner - it self sows freely (I have hundreds of baby plants coming up), is colourful, and indeed edible, unlike the ornamental alliums. This is one of last year's plants, that survived the winter in a large container, giving it a head start. The yellow-orange is one of two dominant colours in the garden at the moment - the other being purple. Wild Geum urbanum (a pernicious weed in my opinion) and buttercups on the one hand, alliums, lilac, self-sown columbine on the other.

This is absolutely the last cherry blossom! For some reason, this spur opened a couple of weeks later than the rest. Sadly, the bumper crop I'd hoped for is looking doubtful. Most of the flowers seem to have shrivelled, and are falling off. I can only assume it's a failure of pollination - even though both trees are in bloom at the same time. Perhaps it was the weather, keeping pollinators away.

There are many herbs to be gathered now - mostly perennials. Lovage, lemon balm, mint, and here sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). Now this is in flower, it needs to be cut back - its sweet, heady aroma develops on drying. It will regrow, and can be harvested again later in the year (although I never use it up). If left, it will go over, as we say, losing its freshness and fragrance as it puts its energy into setting seed - the same is true of most herbs, annual and perennial. Cut them, whether you need them or not (unless you want the seed).

There's another strand of colour in the garden, which will take over from the blues and purples of mid spring: magenta and pink. This is red valerian (Centranthus ruber). It arrived a few years ago, probably by seed from nearby, and now dominates the front garden. It loves cracks in paving, softening the edge of the driveway, and the front of the house. I keep it mostly, as it is bright, flowers for months (and will flower again if cut back in midsummer), and attracts masses of pollinators. On the downside, it's a haven for snails, which hide under the leaves, and between the stem bases, and aphids, that encrust the growing shoots (but seem to do it no harm).

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Early May snapshots

A few photographs to sum up the back garden in early May. Today was another mild, sunny day, although it was a little breezy.

The freestanding cherry tree flowers a few days later than the fan trained one. It's never grown as strongly, but so far this year it looks healthy - plenty of blossom, just about holding on a week into May (both trees bloomed later than in 2011).

Broad bean flowers are pretty - how many other garden plants have true black on their blossom? This is an unknown variety - from a bag of dried broad beans I bought from a local Turkish/Eastern European grocer's. Most were used to make a delicious, simple Iranian dish of broad beans with dill, but the final few I soaked to see if they would germinate. I'd call that a success.

 I tore out the three-year-old fruit bed over winter (the broad beans above are growing in its place), but the strawberries had sent enough runners across the garden to avoid the need for buying new plants. I dug a few out and temporarily put them in a nursery bed - and they are already flowering. You can see the embryonic fruit at the centre here - the yellow blob will swell and turn red in a few weeks, with luck.

A couple of 30p bags of tulip bulbs were one of the highlights of last spring, grown in pots. I did the responsible thing and lifted the bulbs - which had multiplied - at the end of the summer, and kept them indoors. But then I forgot about them. I found the bag just a few weeks ago, and decided to plant them in my sole flower bed, figuring they wouldn't survive dormant until autumn. Here is living proof that you can plant tulips in March and get flowers in May - an extraordinary bounty.

 I like barbecues, and a warm sunny day is perfect for testing new ideas. The sausages were shop-bought - though good-quality - but the rest I assembled myself. In the upper picture, you can see pork steaks that were sliced laterally and 'stuffed' with coarse mustard and honey, then seasoned; below are chicken thighs with rosemary, salt, and smoked garlic pounded and rubbed under the skin; at the bottom, chicken breast chunks and baby button mushrooms, marinated in yoghurt, lemon juice, and cinnamon, on metal skewers. All quite delicious.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Successes and failures

The garden is in full growth now May is here, especially with warmer weather following last month's excessive rains.

This is a difficult time. There's still much to be sown - late peas and broad beans, early French and runner beans, summer and winter squash, and fast-growing annual flowers. The early spring sowings need to be potted on, which multiplies the watering. Pests are proliferating - slugs are active, especially after rain - and aphids reproduce near-infinitely. The weeds that you didn't pull up in April are twice the size, and the bare patches of soil endlessly sprout fresh ones. With little to harvest, this is a time that tries the gardener's patience, where the faith that you're doing the right thing, and will be rewarded in time, is all you have.

Well, not quite all. There are pleasures to be found. It's spring, after all - growth is lush, the winter's grimness forgotten. In my part of the world, I can count on more than 15 hours of daylight each day at the beginning of May - more than enough to get everything done. Temperatures are reliably pleasant - even if the weather is not.

So I'll share with you a few pictures of the highs and lows of my own garden, which is by turns life-affirming and soul-destroying. I am rewarded for the effort I have put in, and chided by the parts I've neglected. Salutory.


My potatoes are perhaps the happiest crop this year - to think I didn't grow them in 2011, and only chose to this time on a whim. One bag was earthed up for the first time two days ago, the other three got their second topping up. The two most advanced have been fed with homemade nettle food - nettles steeped in water, which provides a good range of nutrients, but stinks like bad drains.

Perhaps this is the year of the cherry. It's too early to tell - fruit fall wiped out most of last year's crop, and the last few were taken by birds. Netting can prevent the latter, but it's up to the trees whether any fruit ripens. The early broad beans are just coming into bloom. Not a sign of blackfly so far - I escaped entirely last year - so this is a success. Again, whether the fruit sets is beyond my control.

The first tomatoes I potted up at the end of March, and have lived on the warmest windowsill since. They are sturdy, and not far off being ready to plant in their final positions.


I took a chance and repotted later tomatoes and chillies in the greenhouse, and even dicier I left them in there overnight. They haven't been harmed by cold, but they haven't thrived. Of course it's not as warm in there as on the windowsill in the house, but worst of all, slugs have taken a shine to them. They graze young plants down to the ground, and every day I see more attacked. Well, it must end - I will eradicate them, one way or another.

The first (purple-podded) peas have finally taken off, after seeming unhappy for a few weeks. The ones I put in the back (normal green-podded peas, above) have started suffering injuries - molluscs again. It's reminded me one major reason why I never succeed with peas - once they finally get established, they lose shoots, leaves, and even pods to snails and slugs. I probably won't grow them here again.

The bane of my front garden: couch grass. It treated the weed-suppressant fabric I laid under the new raised beds with disdain. I am trying a double layer, but can't rule out stronger solutions. At least it's good for wildlife, and theoretically edible (I saw a neighbourhood cat nibbling some recently - perhaps I could recruit cats to eradicate it?). Last year's chard has produced three pickings despite this, and is still growing. I intend to lift the plants, remove the weeks, and replant them in fresh soil.