Saturday, 25 January 2014

Sow the Seeds of this Years Garden Plans

The weather this weekend is cold, windy, wet, sleaty, snowy and I just am not going to get out in the garden (sad face). The greenhouses are tidy as is the potting shed, so there's no work to do under cover. So next on the indoor gardening job list is planning my seed purchases for this year, yeh!

Before I had to go back to work full time six years ago I used to have a fully operating veg garden and spent a lot of money on seeds every January. This not only included veg seeds (sometimes up to 6 types of cabbages) but also annuals and some perennials. Three years ago when I found myself a single mum I turned the veg garden into a flower garden because I didn't have the time to raise, plant out and tend veg, I couldn't afford to buy that much seed and the kids didn't appreciate the inevitable extra protein in their greens! I did my best to remove the caterpillars, honest! I now have four very pretty, colourful flower beds and we grow a few lettuce and radish in the kids potager garden.

After two or three years of not doing much seed growing at all here (general apathy at life, no time, etc.) last year I sowed a few packets of my favourite annuals to mix in the borders in the kids garden and the morning garden. I am feeling much more positive, with our plans for the future of the gardens here at Easter Mosshat and all the work we did last year with David on board who is equally enthusiastic. So the seed catalogues are out, along with a glass of wine, cosy-ed up on the sofa, I will be making notes then ordering on line.

Some of my favourite seed catalogues

Again I will sow some lettuce but this year I will mainly be buying flower seeds. Once I have a poly tunnel up and running, hopefully in the next year or so (we're saving hard!) we plan to go back into full veg production which will be fab: I miss producing all that fresh produce for our kitchen, but until then flowers and perennial seeds it is.

The seeds I have stored already for sowing in March

I received an envelope of seed packets in the post last week from the Hardy Plant Society which I joined in December. I joked that I must be getting old now I have joined some garden societies. David nodded sagely: his view is that all gardeners are silver-haired (I am not, by the way) and retired. The society produce a seed list and members can choose twelve packets for the cost of P&P. I chose a good selection of perennial, quite I few I had planned to get for the garden eventually and some others to try. The other society that does this is the Cottage garden Society, which I also joined in December. I am eagerly awaiting my ten packets of seeds from them.

Once we get into March I will be sowing all my packets of seeds in trays and pots in the greenhouses. Some annuals will be scattered over the ground in May, once the soil warms up. I will cover sowing seeds in another blog in a couple of months time, but I have already sown some perennial seeds in the cold greenhouse, to get them germinated and growing for planting in the spring. These plants are all destined for the native garden. All are Scottish natives so I was expecting a pretty good germination rate... until the mice struck!

Seeds coming on in the cold greenhouse

Mice are a nightmare to anyone sowing seeds or growing bulbs in winter. I know they are hungry but my seeds are not bought as mouse food! I covered the pots in the greenhouse with wire mesh too small for them to get through, but they still got to some of the pots and I'm not sure there will be enough seed left to give me a batch of plants. Time will tell.

Some germinating Scottish natives

A note about storing seeds until you are ready to sow them. Ideally use a dry, airtight container (plastic tupperware type boxes are good) and then pop them in the fridge. This keeps them viable, stops them rotting (if too humid), an ideal temperature of 5 degrees Celsius is good, and many seeds will keep like this for years.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Musings while doing the winter tidy up

I thought my day in the garden was scuppered this morning as it was raining: it wasn't forecast to and I was not amused! So it was on with some house cleaning and waiting to see if the weather cleared, which it did by mid morning, hooray!

Bracken the dog and he is amazing
Off out into the garden with my faithful hound (ha ha) - faithful as long as there are no other distractions to lead him astray. The faithful hound in question, if you haven't met him before is one Bracken, a Jack Russell Terrier (or terror). Seriously he is a great wee dog, full of character and good company. He's almost a year and half old and still full of puppy nonsense. His biggest downfall in the garden is his strange reaction to brushes, rakes and other garden tools which he barks hysterically at and savages, no peaceful day in the garden unless David is around and uses "The voice" - the commanding tone that can stop Bracken in his tracks. 

I got the second two beds of the morning garden weeded and dug over and the rest of the patio swept up, down the steps and into the kids garden. I also got two of the beds in the kids garden cut back, weeded and dug over, I love doing this job, although hard work it gives me a huge amount of satisfaction to see the beds all tidy.


Some winter colour, Hedera colchica 'Dentata Variegata' and
Galanthus 'John Grey'

This year I am cutting some of the climbers back quite severely to rejuvenate them and to allow us to paint the play-hut. Three of the climbers are clematis alpina types and don't normally get hard pruned, but we needed to clear the area where they are growing. Its a risk but I have left a good two feet of stem above the ground and hopefully they will sprout from there. This also allows new growth and therefore flowers will be lower on the plant where we can see them better.

Once I had pruned the Clematis I pruned two Chaenomeles (flowering quince) growing in this area. The variety on the woodland fence is Chaenomeles 'Knaphill Scarlet', a deep red variety which has been planted here for about 13 years. Ideally they should be pruned after flowering, but I don't always remember. At this time of year its relatively easy to see the forming flower buds so I cut them back to there. Again they received a good prune this year to keep them in their place and allow access to paint the play-hut. These plants are spiny so be careful when handling them, but this also makes them good for boundary fences. On the trellis between the kids hgarden and fruit and veg garden is Chaenomeles nivalis, a prety white flowering variety. Again pruned back to this years flower buds it will form a nice back-drop for the new Thalictrums planted at the back of this bed last year; Thalictrum 'Elin'.

Chaenomeles 'Knaphill Scarlet'
The weather so far this winter has been amazing and I am getting ahead with the winter tidy up. Although satisfying it is a big job when you have 2 acres to do! But it's what I love doing and getting ahead now will mean we can spend time on new areas and new plantings, which is always the most exciting bit for me.
Clematis alpina 'Columbine'

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Making the most of the dry weather

We managed to get two days in the garden this weekend, even although the mornings were frosty we have plenty to do that keeps us warm and makes progress here in the gardens. I have been continuing the garden spring clean: finishing the gravel patio and starting the paved patio. This involved weeding the alpine troughs, cutting back herbaceous, sweeping up the slabs and forking the beds. I also started the morning garden, getting all the old tops of plants onto the bonfire and forking over two of the four big square beds.

Tidying the morning garden and removing stone from the bed
I removed an ivy growing on the house wall, to eliminate any damage from the stems getting into the brick work or harling, not sure where it will end up so it is healed in for now. We also removed the pile of stone and rubble lying in one of the morning garden beds from where we started to demolish and make safe one of the derelict byre walls (a future project).

The other big job we did on Saturday was finally finishing the office garden. I won't say too much as I want to do a blog devoted entirely to this garden and its construction soon. Suffice to say we have turned an untidy, weedy dumping area in front of David's office into a Scottish natives garden with pond and six distinct habitat plantings in less than a year. I am really excited about this area as its the first new garden within the garden for six years and has made a huge difference to the look of the front garden. Considering the awful soil we had to work with and it being David and Adam's first experience of landscaping and gardening on such a scale we did brilliantly.
March 2013, some of the rubbish had already
been moved
All finished, just some plants to add in spring

So now its back to work tomorrow for a rest! Ha ha. Hope you all had a good weekend.

For those of you who read my earlier post about new years resolutions: in week one I have lost 3lb having been really good and stuck to the new eating plan and excersise workouts and we have already saved £40 on our food shopping this month and there is still 2 weeks to go. Feeling good.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Happy new year, time to start the big garden tidy.

By now we have eaten, drunk, been merry, been full of festive spirit and cheer and are all Christmas-ed out. Hopefully you all had a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Once the festivities are over and because I have two weeks off at Christmas I keep my fingers crossed we have some reasonable weather and I can get out and start tidying up the gardens for spring. Some gardeners start this in autumn once everything goes over, but I like to leave the garden to slide gracefully into winter, enjoying the frost on the seed heads, late flowers and also giving plants extra protection if we have very cold weather and deep frosts. But it is also important to get it all done before the bulbs and herbaceous start growing and emerging from the ground.

Before and after spring tidy up in the woodland garden
For the gardens at Easter Mosshat, the great tidy up involves cutting back the herbaceous plants, weeding the borders, re-edging the lawns, forking over the beds and finally adding fertiliser. Once done the gardens look great and it's such a satisfying feeling to get the gardens and plants off to a great start. As always in Scotland it is weather dependant. There have been years where I have been lucky enough to get it all done before the end of February and then there are the years when I am still trying to finish the tidy up in May. This is much more difficult as bulbs are up and plants are growing. But we gardeners are always at the mercy of mother nature.

Both borders complete, just needing the grass cut!

Cutting back the herbaceous plants, picking up dead leaves and general rubbish lying around instantly improves the look of the borders. The stems and leaves of virtually all herbaceous plants can be taken down to ground level. At this time I also cut all last years leaves off Hellebores, even though they are still green. This allows us to see the flowers when they bloom early in the season and allows new leaves to grow through. If I have had a good year in the garden there are few weeds to remove now, but there are always some tenacious ones that insist, so out they come. Forking over the beds (taking care to avoid bulbs) opens up the soil to allow better drainage and let air in, it also looks good of course.

The kids garden after tidying up, note the Agapanthus still wrapped up under its bamboo cloche
I re-edge the lawns at this time of year, which increases the visual look of the borders and garden but also gives a nice firm edge for the coming season. Firstly I take the shears and edge the lawn, then I run a half moon edging knife along the edge, taking care not to take much off but enough to get rid of mossy, ragged soil and create a nice vertical edge. I then take the shears over it again to remove any last straggly bits. We were always taught that if the grass edges look good and the first foot or two of the bed is tidy then you can worry less about what lies behind, and it does work.

Lastly I scatter fertiliser and compost over the beds, enriching the soil and feeding the plants. Well rotted manure is great or compost from your compost heaps spread over the surface of the soil is great to improve the soil, reduce weeds and feed the plants. Gradually over the year it is worked into the soil when you fork or hoe the beds and by the worms. I also scatter pelleted chicken manure over the beds. I have previously used Growmore and other chemical based slow release fertilisers but find that the organic pelleted chicken manure is really good and the plants love it!

The fruit and veg garden after its spring tidy up, wish it looked this tidy all year round!

Once the beds, patios, paths, lawns and other areas are all tided up the garden looks great and we can enjoy the plants growing and starting another year. After a month or so the garden will require another tidy up, but this is easier as its just a quick hoe and weed, the grass gets cut every week and we work on new projects.