Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Taking on an allotment

A lot can be achieved in a garden, especially when the local handyman can be convinced to 'accidentally' remove your mother's line of prized bushes, leaving a nice bit of land to grow more cosmos than one person really needs and a steady supply of summer beans.

But a garden has its limitations. With the best will in the world, you cannot ram a squash plant in amongst your mother's rose bushes and expect good results. And I know you can grow all sorts of vegetables in containers, but its a lot of watering.

I didn't blog much last year for many reasons, one of which being that there is only so many ways to put tulips in a pot and I felt a little uninspired. That and planting more than a hundred cosmos plants is incredibly time consuming.

This year has seen many changes, including changing jobs and moving house - a very stressful combination I have discovered. The most exciting change by far though (no offence to the boyfriend I have moved in with) is the acquisition of my very first allotment.

With 112.5m of prime Surrey real estate at my disposal the opportunities are endless. This new venture has inspired me to get back to blogging and share my tales from the allotment.

Here it is back in March when I had but a fork and a weed to my name
I have had the plot for a few months now and things are progressing well. I have already learnt a lot, including that my plot's previous tenant had a series thing for horseradish judging by the amount he left behind.

Continuing the spirit of change, this will be my last blog on Basically its Growing. I have made a fresh start here at The Beanyfiend. Join me for surprisingly juicy tales from the allotment, and I'm not talking about the fruit!

Monday, 9 May 2016

The spring pot - year three - margarita tulips, mascari and lilac wonder

My annual spring pot, crowned with some smashing margarita tulips
So I vanished. At the end of last year I abruptly stopped posting. The simple fact of the matter is I just didn't feel like it, lots of things were changing and my blog was a casualty of the process. But that doesn't mean I haven't been busy gardening! Nothing could put me off that, and now things have calmed down a bit I thought it would be fitting to come back to where it all started two years ago with my annual spring pot.

To set the scene every year in autumn the mother and I head to a garden centre, buy up half the bulbs and spend an afternoon trying to cram them all in the one pot. Its quite an art, like putting together crazy paving, and I must confess I leave the actual hard work of planting to my mother.

Mascara and scilla siberica alba   
But I do have a hand in its design, which is why last year it was an abysmal failure. I can't remember all in the ins and outs, but the general gist was some of the bulbs lied and made out they would fit into a blue and orange colour scheme when they were shocking red. It did not look good.

And you know what, I really wished I had gone pink last year, so this year I have embraced the somewhat feminine shade wholeheartedly. I think we have set the record for the number of varieties within the pot this year, at eight, and despite all the bulbs being crammed in there like commuters in Victoria underground station in rush hour, everything has come up just fine.

The real star of the show has been the lustrously dark pink Margarita tulips which are standing slightly above the rest of the flowers and really commanding attention. Its a really super variety, so much so I'm actually going to try and identify the bulbs to try and keep for next year. The wind has snapped off a couple but they are brightening up the kitchen windowsill instead now.

Early colour came from the combination of the blue chionodoxa forbesii and scilla siberica alba, and this blue and white combination has been carried through by my beloved mascara. I went back to my favourite blue latifolium variety with their contrasting top-nots, and for the first time this year I also threw in some white ones in the form of white magic. They are really unapologetically white, which is rather pleasing and just popping up between all the foliage now.

If anything in the pot is a bit 'meh' its the narcissus tresamble, but at the end of the day when competing with the likes of margarita and tulip lilac wonder there really is only so much a fairly simple white daffodil can do. It does add contrast though. Lilac wonder aren't remotely lilac but are instead a lovely shade of pink with delightfully eggs yellow centres. I do love a bit of yellow in the mix.

And lastly I was going to I can't really remember seeing tulip little beauty, but looking at my pictures I realise that is because they haven't actually come out yet! So still things to look forward too.

Margarita tulips

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Planting spring bulbs - pink tulips and muscari

I hate this time of year with a passion. Every day when I get home from work its dark and freezing and on my one gardening day of the week, Saturday, it without fail rains. Nothing is growing with any great speed and im stuck inside no doubt feeding my face. The whole situation is thoroughly depressing. But there is one silver lining. Its bulb planting season! And this means I can be frivolous with my credit card and plan wondrous displays.

And frivolous I most certainly have been. My credit card has gone for a lay down. Although the bulbs in today's post I ironically didn't buy. Today we are talking the spring pot. The infamous pot that the mother crams as many bulbs in as physically possible and always turns out stunning. How all the little 'fellas', as bulbs are in my mothers eyes, manage to fight and elbow their way to the top I don't know, but despite being layered up like a cake they do.

This is a flavour of last years' rather red and blue pot 
I have been over how the pot gets planted in the past, most people know how its done, so im just going to focus on the planting scheme. I wasn't so thrilled with this years pot, too much sun ruined the timings and the colour palette of orange and blue didn't work out quite as well as I had hoped. I expressed an interest in doing a nice girly pink pot as it started wilting. Because everybody likes a bit of pink in the spring. Well I have delivered.

Next years pot will be pink, white and blue if it turns out as the packets promise. Which nobody can guarantee! And it should be absolutely stuffed. Im not sure we have ever put so many bulbs into one pot before, but no doubt it will still work. As ever the only rule for the spring pot is anything that goes in it must be an early bloomer.

If my memory serves me correctly now nestled right at the bottom is narcissus 'tresamble'. There has to be a daffodil of some kind in the pot and I chose tresamble because it should be near enough white. I like a nice white clean daffodil, and I didn't want too much yellow. Knowing my luck it will be full on cream.

Next up is Margarita. She is a big blousey pink tulip which should bring a nice feminine feel to proceedinsgs. She isn't our usual style for the pot, we normally go for something more striking and structural but its nice to have something different.

Carrying on the pink theme is tulipa 'lilac wonder' which is a worrying name for something that promises to be pink. I really like the look of these, small cup-shaped pink flowers with really bright egg-yellow centres. In my mind these will be the real stars of the show.

One of my absolute favourite spring flowers which I have spouted endlessly about before is muscari. These are literal perfection in my eyes. Anything that looks like a tiny bunch of blue grapes is great in my eyes. Which is why I have bought them in white. No, I have never tried the white ones before so I was obviously itching to give them a go. I have never even seen a white one but they will fit in with the theme of the pot nicely and hopefully I will love them.

But you can't just have muscari in white so the variety with the contrasting top knot are back too. Last year I grew a plain blue variety which I wasn't so keen on so I have gone back to my original favourites. The top knots get me every time. Can't wait.

Basically everything in this pot thats pink is a tulip and little beauty is no different. I feel this little cherub of a flower is what ties all the rest of bulbs together. These tulips contain each of the colours in the pot; white, pink and blue. The combination promises to be quite striking, even though they are only small in stature.

Finally the top layer contains two quite similar small flowers. Scilla siberica alba and chionodoxo forbesii. One is blue with white centres and one is just plain white. And thats all I have to say about them because they are really very similar. But also no doubt lovely when they flower.

We planted all the bulbs one sunny saturday in late October so all we have to do now is sit back and wait for for the magic to happen. Indoors preferably.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The cut annual flower plot through the months

Orange zinnias and double click rose bonbons

As its now November and a deluge of water has pretty much finished off any remaining annuals in my front vegetable and cut flower garden hybrid, now seems like a good time to take a look back over the bed through the summer months. It has been a continuing thing of beauty, but each month it has looked different. First were the cornflowers, then the gladiolus, the cosmos, the beans and then the zinnias.

I started putting my annual plants in the bed in about June, although the gladiolus started to go in before that. I grow nothing in terms of annuals from scratch in situ. I just do not have the soil. My soil would make even the most robust, eager little annual seed give up with the heavy heavy clay. Although the front bed actually isn't too bad from years of bush roots tunnelling through.

Flowering kicked off in July with my cornflowers. Beautiful dark claret tufts waving around in the wind. Also bursting into action prolifically were my four varieties of beans in white, pale lilac and orange and these provided a lot of the colour at this time. A few cosmos had struggled out and my first zinnia.
Early August
At the beginning of August the antirhinnums were livening up the bed with their small mounds of bright colour. The first gladiolus made an appearance at this point too, a lovely pale coral one and unsurprisingly the first variety I planted. The bed was still to really get going, especially as the beans had moved into vegetable production by this point, but things were starting to look up.

Mid August
By mid August I had two different colours of gladiolus in bloom - the original coral one and fresh green star. The gladiolus definitely looked best when there was an assortment of colours out at once. My yellow zinnia was also brightening up one side of the beans.

After a wet few days

This was a bad day in the annual bed. We had the most torrential downpour of rain over several days and my upright straight as a dime gladiolus all flopped over and a bit of remedial staking was required.
By the end of August the gladiolus end of the bed was really starting to look pretty. There were the glads, cosmos, zinnias and cornflowers all vying for attention. I put the plants that had reached maturity earliest down that end as I was waiting for the beans to go in before planting up the other end.

Early September
Two of my favourite coloured plants appeared at the start of September and they complimented each other perfectly it turned out. The dark red glad was a winner with the neighbours and I just loved the zingy orange zinnias. They were a star of the bed right from this point onwards in my opinion.

Other than the orange zinnias the glads were the focal point of the bed. All the different colours started coming up together and totally ignoring my planting scheme, it was a riot of summer colour and this was the point people started stopping in the street. As long as they are not clutching a big pair of scissors thats fine with me!

This purple tobacco plant turned to be a pillar of the bed, complimenting the glads and the zinnias, but I actually didn't plant it. I don't know how it got in there, but once it started flowering, despite taking up half the bed I didn't have the heart to remove it.

A stray tobacco plant
It wasn't until early October that the double click bonbon cosmos plants down the other end of the bed really reached perfection and there was a seamless line of colour from one end to the other. Although it looks great with multiples of the same plant dotted around, there clearly is room for more varieties as I have planned next year.

I thought the bed looked really odd after the height of the beans was removed at the beginning of October. I liked all the colour against the backdrop of green. The early showers started to die at this point and I turned my attention to seed collection, which doesn't exactly improve the look, but oh well.

At the end of October the colour had begun to die off quite dramatically, but some heleniums and the antirhinnums were still flowering strong and keeping things interesting until last week when I imagine the colder nights finished most things off.

End of October
Now I am just left with a lot of dead plants to pull out to leave my vegetables. I have been gradually replacing the dying annuals with vegetable and salad plants so there shown be continuing greenery out the front through the winter and the soil wont go to waste.

Im really thrilled with how my annual bed turned out this year, especially as I hadn't planned it. Where I thought I was going to find the space to plant all my seedlings without digging up the front bushes I really don't know, but in the end they had their own dedicated area and it worked really well. Next year I hope to get a wider variety of colours and plants in and really make it something spectacular.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Annual flowers - single stocks and their seeds

I absolutely love stocks, although this isn't my favourite type. This one is
a pretty colour though
One of my absolute favourite flowers is an oldie but a goodie - the stock. The quintissential english cottage garden plant that smells divine. The way to my heart is through a bunch of these flowers, which is why I always try and grow my own. Because quite frankly they are over priced in the shops when you consider how easy they are to produce yourself. This year I tried a new variety in my garden, but results have been at best mixed.

So in my experience of growing stocks in the past you get one flower spike grow up, which if you're me you chop off for a vase indoors and then the plant is done. Quick but effective. But the ones I grew this year were great big branching things that I have to say lacked the elegance of stocks you buy in the supermarket. I may have got more actual flower but I prefer the straight-up-and-down of shop varieties. I presume what I grew is a single variety as the individual flowers are quite spaced out. I much prefer a nice dense flower head. But the colours were pretty as ever, and the smell divine.

Pretty and sweet smelling, what more do you need from a plant?
One thing I was not exactly thrilled about was the fact I got my plants in nice and early, they flowered - which is fine - and then they went straight to seed. A stock in seed is not an attractive beast. It grows long cylindrical seedpods which on mass resemble, to me at least, fronds or tenticles. I have no need of tenticles in my garden. I wasn't sure how to progress from this. Could the plants be cut right back, thereby removing the seeds and potentially producing more flowers? Or was this it? As I wanted to try collecting seeds I decided this was it and just left the pods, thinking they would ripen in a few weeks and I could pull out the plants.

This is not my cutting bed at its best but it shows the nature of my stock variety
Stock seed heads do not willingly go dry. My plants have had resolutely green ones for months. I was at the point of despair when randomly about six weeks ago the plants all suddenly re-burst into flower. I don't get how this is possible as they had all gone to seed. It doesn't really matter, the unexpected flowers were a welcome addition to my fading garden.

Not long after this on some of the plants, ones that had not chosen to randomly flower again, one or two of the pods had finally decided to dry. You know when a stock seed pod is ready when it suddenly desicates, goes brown and flat and very dry. Then you want to whip off the pod before it naturally splits and you lose all control over placement next year.

The unripe seed pods, green and plump and not exactly pretty
Im not sure if its better to save stock seeds in the pods over the winter, or store them free, but I decided to shuck my seeds. This is fairly fiddly as the pods are stiff and the seeds miniscule and very light, flying off in every direction under the force of prising the pods open. I shall not be surprised if I get stocks growing out of the middle of the living room carpet next year. Some I did manage to capture in an envelope, and some I most definitely threw away. I did not realise that the pods are divided into two chambers, if you will, with each being filled with a line of seeds, so after empyitng one I threw the other away on quite a few! Oops. Oh well I learnt in the end.

The dried out pods with the ripples showing they are full of seeds. The seeds are small, black and easily losable in the
I believe you can't guarantee what type of stock you will grow from a home collected seed. You may have had a double, but the seed produces singles, and vice versa. Im happy to try my luck not being overly enamoured with the parent plants. I will also look to supplement my own collection with another variety of the double, mono-headed variety so I get a bit of all worlds.
Overall I would say it hasn't been my favourite year of growing stocks, although they have contributed to the general ambiance in my cutting garden, but I have learnt a lot from these surpsisingly fragrant plants.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Growing dahlias - boogie woogie, hawaii, lambada and happy butterfly

I tried growing dahlias for the first time this year after seeing such nice ones in Sarah Raven's garden, and while it went well, I have a serious gripe. And its my usual gripe about misleading packaging, but more of that later. Lets start with the good stuff.

It might look like a bunch of potatoes but tis is a dahlia tuber
Despite having already singled out a whole bunch of varieties I particularly liked, I went and bought four different ones. The reason being I wanted to try growing them in pots as I just don't have the bed space to devote to dahlias, much as I might want to. While I had read that you could, I didn't want to spend a fair chunk of money of fairly expensive tubers only to find that it didn't work. The mother has tried growing dahlias in pots in the past and they didn't flower so I felt dubious.

So one day early in the year while wandering around my local garden centre I saw they had all their dahlias tubers in stock and I thought I would try a few out. Despite it being a garden centre I actually thought the varieties on offer were actually pretty decent. But then I would because I followed the picture on the front of the packet. Big mistake.

The varieties I plumped for were 'boogie woogie', 'hawaii', 'lambada' and 'happy butterfly'. They are all variations of pink, because if you read my inspiring dahlias you will know that's what I like in a dahlia.
I planted the tubers at the beginning of May in the large-ish pots that I used to grow my fuchsias in. I thought the bigger the pot the better, and buried the tubers about half way down. Then I watched a video by Sarah Raven, the owner of all the splendid dahlias, who said dahlias only need a pot slightly bigger than themselves and to leave what will become the stem sticking out the top of the pot. Of course I didn't think about watching the video first, and I certainly wasn't going to dig them up again so half-way down they stayed.

Because I knew I hadn't planted them quite correctly I watched growth like a hawk, but they did finally appear. But then I watched another video on propagation which said cut off one or two of the stem growths as you ideally don't want more than five. Five?! I had one single stem out of each. Clearly this was a sign of things going wrong.

What the packet promised
But then in the second week of August my first flower appeared and I was thrilled. Out popped what I assumed was a lambada but is in actual fact a boogie woogie. Boogie woogie is meant to be an anemone dahlia with hot pink petals round the edge and a mass of egg yolk yellow petals in the centre just tinged with the odd spot of pink. On the packet is is very attractive. This is my boogie woogie.

What the plant actually delivered. Its perfectly nice, but its not the boogie woogie
I bought
It has white petals round the edge streaked with pink and a mass of lemon yellow petals in the centre. With no pink touches. Its perfectly attractive, and if that is what I had believed I was buying I would have been thrilled. But I keep the fronts of the packets and I therefore know it should not look like that. I would say I have been mis-sold a different variety, but I have typed boogie woogie into Google and both types come up. So now im totally confused as to whats happened. But at the end of the day I do not have what I believed I was buying, so thanks Simple Pleasures Bulbs for that.

The promised hawaii flower
The delivered hawaii flower. Ummmm....?
While I am in full gripe mode lets talk about hawaii. Hawaii, or at least the packet, proports to be something really special. A pompom dahlia in yellow, white and pink which is very snazzy and in your face. This is my hawaii.

One glaring difference, its white and yellow. There is no hint of the bright hot pink I was promised. I literally don't know what this variety is, because it certainly isn't a hawaii. Its not a hawaii gone slightly awry, its literally a completely different flower. And not one I would have bought.

Miraculously it does actually look like the packet, and its pretty
Onto a happier note, my other two varieties have been lovely. Happy butterfly is a peach and yellow number which is really rather pretty, although I can't see the reference to butterflies.

A vision of peach and cream loveliness, happy butterfly
My final variety lambada finally flowered in October, a full two months after the others. But boy was it worth it. A really heavy bloom with a skirt of pale lilac petals and a great big creamy yellow centre, which is also flushed with lilac and a touch of pink. It is so feminine and pretty, which I would normally hate, and I do feel like need to grow something strong coloured and a tad butch next to it, but it is undeniably pretty. I don't know why the blooms took so long to come out but I have a few flowers on it so not the end of the world.

Who knew it could happen twice, my Lambada also resembles the packet
I think I have established you can grow dahlias in pots so can now branch out. But I also plan to dig up the tubers from this year and replant them again next year, added to with some new varieties which will be coming off my inspiration list. Im dying to get a totally tangerine and a waltzing mathilda and get some coral going on.

You could say Lambada is a bit insipid in colour, but I think she's ravishingly feminine

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Dahlia inspiration - part 2

So on to part two of my round up of dahlia inspiration from UK gardener Sarah Raven's garden. Part one can be found here. First up is this collerette variety Night Butterfly. While I am always a fan of the more simple things in life, including flowers, I do like the extra ruffles in these blooms in the contrasting colour. A good autumnal palette.

Night butterfly, this little red one in the front is charming
I liked this orange variety because its got a bit of a raggedy appearance. Its not too neat, much like myself. I also rather like the fact it is a light shade of orange on the top with a much darker shade on the underneath of the petals meaning, if like me, you're a titch and therefore spend time looking at the underneath of flowers there is a bit more going on.

Its raggedy and its orange and I like it

I think this one is 'shooting star', a rather prickly-looking semi-cactus variety with very spiky petals. The colour of this is what drew me in, the pale acid greeny-yellow with touches of pink. Its different, the colours shouldn't work but they do, and I like things that are prepared to make a statement.

This shooting star has an air of alien about it to me, but it breaks up
the usual pinks and oranges and is very zingy
I don't know what this pink one is but I rather like the shaggy-headed appearance, like a pompom made from cut bits of wool. I probably wouldn't rush out to buy this as I have seen others I would buy first, but I still think it is a worthy contender for a place in anybody's garden as it is quite fun.

This one reminds me of woolly pompoms. It wouldn't be my first choice
but I think its nice in its own way
The only white variety I took a picture of is this great big blousey number. I think if anything is going to add weight to my original arguement that dahlias are naff, its this one.  Yes im sure it would be great at a wedding, and white flowers are always nice, they are clean and provide a good backdrop to other colours, but this one is boring. Its big, blousey and boring. Its not doing anything I wouldn't expect it to, no unexpected ruffle, or sudden flash of colour underneath. I probably wouldn't find a space for this one either.
White and blousey, not much else to say
One thing I did particularly like about the way Raven grows her dahlias is that she grows so many of each variety. I know this is because she has the space to, and she is actively selling both the tubers and the cut flowers to paying customers, but it means she has these great blocks of colours all contrasting against each other. For example, im not particularly fond of any of the varieties in this photo, but together in the numbers they are I think it is really striking and pretty. Especially with the pink pompoms floating about in the background. Lovely.

I love all these dahlias grown in such numbers with great blocks of colours, even though im not so fond of the actual varieties 
This photo also demonstrates the numbers that she has. Its a riot of colour and just so darn pretty. I would love to be able to do something like this, but the coffers wont allow it and I would literally have to dig up the centre of the lawn. Im already champing at the edges! It would be amazing to go down into the garden and come back with great armfuls of flowers, some people are so lucky.

Its a riot of pink!

And there we have it. Although I said this was inspiration some of them I wouldn't actually buy, but that's also inspiration of what to avoid. Nothing like seeing a flower in the flesh for knowing if you like it or not. And next we are moving on to the four varieties I had a go with myself this year, oddly none of which are from my inspiration list!