“Happily we bask in this warm September sun, Which illuminates all creatures…”— Henry David Thoreau
September, the greatest month, certainly been a beauty this year. How imperious this month can be! Summer months of June, July and August are supposed to be the times of light, of heat and of needing shade. September tries to mimic and often goes does well for ten days or so. But not 2021 here on the Sussex coast with those summer months. September served up 20 plus days of temperatures in the low 20s and oodles of sun. Imperious
The growth and splendour of the Home Garden! Rampant Canna lilies, tower like gladioli, Salvias a haze of bees, luscious roses and the Dahlias and Cosmos. Until three years ago I had never grown either. But, as you already know I did not garden at all in this thoughtful way until three years ago
Cosmos is a superb tall growing plant that is very easy to grow from seed. Large flowers in so, so lovely colours. A mass planting produces a sensational effect. Whilst I adore that effect I grow the white Cosmos 'Psyche White' https://www.thompson-morgan.com/.../cosmos.../4580TM as a "dot plant " in one of the borders, it is a fine sight. I sow Cosmos seeds in late April and by late May they are hardening off in individual 3" pots. They are contemporary in my gardening diary to squashes and marrows. They go on and on right to the damp and cold of late Autumn. Grow them. Cosmos as defined by Pythagoras two and a half thousand years ago, is an " orderly or harmonious universe ". Contemplate that as you peer at the mass planting
In my first year of growing Dahlias, 2018, I did so only in 10" pots using 50% home made compost and 50% bought peat free compost. The results were good and collected together it was a splendid corner. The same the next year but not so good. This year I put them into a border and the resulting growth has been exception even in this strange weather year. The flowers, and there are masses tower over four feet. They are well mulched with home made compost and are tough plants that have not needed staking. I now have perhaps another month to enjoy those flowers and to ponder whether to lift them and store them dried out indoors or cut hem back, mulch again and leave them in situ. Your thoughts and ideas on that welcomed
Next Wednesday is Saint Michaelmas Day, the end of the Harvest period that began on 1st August. As I look down the Home Garden past these ranks of Cosmos and Dahlia flowers I can see at about forty foot distance the instantly recognisable form of the Michaelmas Daisies. A sort of gateway leading from this marvellous September into the more vague and unknown places of late Autumn ....
" I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house." Nathaniel Hawthorne
My my, Sussex gardeners, have you noticed the effects of our recent sunshine? Exciting and brilliant, literally. After so many weeks without it how the Home Garden adores the rays of warmth. And are responding. Growth, flowering and colouring up are combining in a superb resurgence of pure energy and beauty. Plants that have been waiting for it are enthusiastically plunging in. The Brimstone, Blue, White, Red Admiral, Peacock and Painted Lady butterflies promenade in the great heat
Conversly, the slugs, snails, slow worms, beetles and some other creatures keep to the damp, to the shade to their comfort zones. The creatures I do not see but know are around, the voles, the mice, the frogs welcome the camouflage and sanctuary. The twilight flight of the bats seems longer and they are more numerous. And then there are the late birds home to roost. How their number decline in the Home Garden!
Already I am writing about the end of the day but I have the anticipation of the new one. And that is everything to do with my favourite month, September. In September the sun is retreating southwards, becoming lower in the sky, you will have noticed this. No longer directly above with its brilliant light but now at an increased angle that creates an aura, softening the light and hence the colours in the flowers. And how they shine those colours! And how that sun warms in a different way...
" Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence"
I have been told that the average tenancy at Manor Allotments is three years; if it is, then it would not be a surprise to me
Farmers and growers have a reputation for calling out the weather. Too dry. To hot. Too windy. Too wet. They might be forgiven for what Mother Nature has provided so far this year in a ( not so) Sunny Sussex. A very wet turn of the Year became from mid February until April a drought against a set of generally much colder than average temperature days and the high winds and named storms of April and May. A four day " heatwave", actually about 23 Celsius here, against a very sunless, moist and generally cheerless summer! You will have noted that I am indeed calling out the weather!
So the ideal circumstances for bumper numbers of slugs, snails, damping off and blight. Which were delivered!
Plot 106 has not been as productive as last year. I am delighted to have had potato, broad bean, runner bean, sweetcorn, courgettes and marrow crops plus the settling in of grape vines, raspberries, strawberries and blackberry. There will be winter crops of sprouts, leeks, cabbage and broccoli to enjoy. The top fruit trees have put on growth too, some with a very light crop
Compared to last year I have done much smaller amounts of writing down on 106 and that is the bigger loss to me. I had more work than was anticipated and I am full on with the Home Garden. That said it is now September, my favourite month of the year so I will top up with the wellbeing. My autumn work schedule is going to be rammed and there are signs of an exciting 2022 on the horizon. More reason then to sit back to look at the Red Admirals , the swelling fennel plants and the now very apparent chip chip of Robin redbreast. Much to savour....e to edit.
" Great things are done by a series of small things brought together" Vincent Van Gogh
I am devoting most time to this year to the Home Garden unlike last year when it was Plot 106. Lucky to have those two choices
I have very definite plans for Home Garden albeit with flexibility as it develops. I am mindful about using walls, fences and dividing structures that will deepen and enhance the rhythm and harmony that will be projected. All in order then
But I really did sit up and take notice when one of the correspondents to the "Thoughtful Gardening with Andy" website told me about a very different type of garden, forced and structured by space. A high rise flat balcony, a keen Gardener and ambition to grow vegetables. Et Voila, a planter, a 3 Tier planter that grows all the salads, the leaves, tomatoes, cucumber; even the celery from mid June until September. I was impressed by the use of space and determined to emulate. So one of my fellow Shedders ( https://meninshedslancingandsompting.weebly.com/) Jock built me a 3 Tier planter using repurposed wood. It is brilliant and until I emulate next summer with the salads it will be used for herbs. In the shorter term it is a haven of Cannas, Aubergines, Morning Glories, Dahlias, Sweet Peppers and Black Eyed Susies
So a consideration and a challenge for me here as a part of that flexibility. To use the space across the entire Home Garden differently, more compact, more generously? Let us see
" A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm, but the tree can't grow roots just as the storm appears on the horizon." Dalai Lama
Storm Evert came crashing along the Sussex coast with heavy squalls and winds of 50mph plus. Dark clouds scurried across the sky and thoughts centred around " I hope that there is some good weather in the next week or so". Gardeners are patient and resilient types and would happily wait a week for a couple of good weather days to get outside on the plot. But there is a difficulty here. Storm Evert arrived in late July. The time of year associated with cooling sea breezes, hot sunshine and dry spells with an outside chance of a thunderstorm crossing the Channel from a baking Europe that quench the thirst of man and fauna. Evert damaged a number of plants in the Home Garden despite my best efforts of using supports, canes, obelisks and arches to support the taller ones. I think they will mostly recover
Without a hint of irony as the storm going on it provided an opportunity to read the latest Met Office report noting that " Climate change continues to be evident across the UK " you can too at
What I took away from this report was that " These climate variables all have an impact on UK wildlife, with 2020 seeing notably early first leaf dates and also earlier bare tree dates across the UK of four common shrub/tree species: Elder, Hawthorn, Silver Birch and Pedunculate Oak. Elder first leaf was the earliest in its series (15.9 days earlier than the 1999-2019 baseline), occurring in late February. Oak first leaf was also the earliest in its series (8.9 days earlier than the baseline) ". Sobering reading
The next morning I was out early to get the photos to go with this Blog and although battered, Home Garden was certainly not beaten. The butterflies were out and the calmer air was cooler but fresh, a morning to be busy
The photos show that my 2019/2024 renovation of Home Garden goes well both in terms of structure and plantings. Structure. I consider my willingness to change long held ideas and plans when the need arises to be a personal strength. Leaving something behind that once seemed essential is no issue or better still realising that a new addition makes such sense is a good strategy. For example despite have an allotment I created another one within Home Garden for those who live in the annex. The trampoline of youthful pursuits will be replaced by an Eco building that is being created specifically as a place for writing and hopefully drawing and painting. More about that it a future Blog
It is pleasant to see the beautiful Dahlias, the beans, the Sweet Williams, Acanthus and roses this morning. To stop and look is an important thing to do in a garden. And recognise that as in gardens, as in life. Storms never last, only memories ....
" If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness ... " Therese of Lisieux
There is little doubt that wildflowers are "in". Some statistics though about wildflowers and wildflower meadows, it is not good news. In the UK Kew Gardens report that we have lost 97% of uk wildflower meadows since the 1930s. If it were the loss of aesthetic matters relating to that such as beauty and harmony it would be bad but of course it is also the loss of the shelter and food for pollinators like bees and the creatures that eat pollinators too. Birds, hedgehogs and bat are endangered too
The development of land for housing and changes to farming methods are the most important reasons for wildflower meadow decline. But there is also another reason, albeit smaller, and it might be a little uncomfortable to take it in, gardeners and home owners. The later in modern times are more likely to have decorative plants chosen for colour and their beauty that do not attract pollinators. Hedges, grasses and native flowers are less on trend
Of course the increasing awareness of the wildflower decline is spurring many to plant them and community groups and organisations are being formed to grow and sustain wildflowers. Local authorities are getting in on the act by reducing the frequency of roadside, verge, park and open spaces cuttings. This is not popular with everyone and some folk like to be tidy but there is certainly room for compromise here by not cutting everything back. And that is what is happening
I am going to point out a couple of examples of Lancing wildflower areas. It would be lovely if you can let me know about more
Inside the Lancing Manor allotments a number of plot holders spent the Spring clearing an area and planting it with wildflowers. It looks spectacular and everyone is appreciating it, especially the pollinators
The community group Keep Lancing Lovely recently won an award for their two wildflower gardens at Lancing Railway station
It gets better, The Adur and Worthing Wildflower Trail, a community led programme set up by Adur and Worthing Councils goes from strength to strength as it encourages more though and action about wildflower areas https://www.thewildflowertrail.org
Want to plant up some wildflowers? There are suppliers of wildflower turf online here is a good example https://www.wildflowerlawnsandmeadows.com and to grow your own wildflowers here are some suppliers
" There are good and bad times, but our mood changes more often than our fortune.." Thomas Carlyle
It is certainly the case that gardeners, growers and farmers have a bit of a reputation for not being happy with the current or recent past weather. Too cold! Too dry! Too hot! You will know what I mean and just like me plead guilty with mitigating circumstances
Met Office forecasts are looking promising if you like warm, dry and sunny weather over the next week to ten days. The magical 32 Celsius ( 90 Fahrenheit figure is likely to be reached)
But what a different story three or four months ago here on the Sussex coast with exceptionally dry, cold and sunless times. This is only my second full season on Plot 106 so it is much too early to be able to talk in terms of "normal" or "trends" to describe and explain what is happening or how things grow in comparison to earlier times. But it was noteworthy at least
And the results were considerable difficulties with planting out, growing or harvesting crops early on. Actually for about six weeks nothing really happened in terms of plant growth, they just stayed there. A May storm (winds gusting towards 60mph) destroyed a neighbour ploy tunnel and blew it onto 106 and many of my plants were ruined. Some were retrievable in that I could resow and I did, many were not
Anyhow where are we right now? Crops are vein picked and the outlook is promising. Broad beans have done well. Sown on Christmas Eve and planted out late February they area treat. We talked the smaller whole pods for stir fries and leave the rest for shelling. This time we have created home made " humus" too. Rhubarb has done brilliantly. The crowns are into their first proper season as I only picked lightly in their first summer. Early and second early potatoes are being lifted and at this stage the lush green halums bode well for the main crop too. Garlic is good, I have lifted about fourty bulbs. Onions are very hit and miss, they are grown from sets and number quite a few bolsters. Tomatoes set and growing well. Sweet corn well on the way to a good harvest. Cauliflowers, cabbage and brocoli are so, so, they seem to have been most affected by that weather referred to. Over the coming month the leeks will be out and I will be looking for early squashes to pick. About a quarter of the whole plot will be green mabred once those early potatoes are taken
I look forward to the lazy days of summer on 106. The days of promise and expectation...
" Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life " –John Updike
Rainwater is an essential for good plant growth and the heavens have been very open from May until early July here on the Sussex coast. That dampness produces lush green growth in the Home Garden creating a blackcloth to the wonderful blooms. Equally it gives a sense of freshness, excitement even to the canna leaves
High winds again visited the area last week, as many now in Spring and Summer as Autumn and Winter! Damaging to just about any plant outside or even to trees and shrubs. My studious staking, preparation for adverse conditions and preventative action has eased a real buffeting in the Home Garden
I was up very early and
awoke to light rain in still, calm conditions. Soft air in fact and how rather lovely everything was looking. I took out the camera to capture that. Perhaps you agree ....
Field bindweed and gastropods thrive in the dull and damp Sussex coast summer... but the first potatoes are lifted
They come in threes. The weather. A mild dark and somewhat wet Winter gave way to a cold, windy and very dry Spring and now we have a cool wet and dark summer in progress. Of course there have been bouts of five or six days of dryness and sunshine, early June was like that but they are at an absolute premium
Gastropods are are very large group of creatures and the two of most interest to gardeners are snails and slugs Boy have they been busy. Virtually all allotment ewers is mentioning them and how not just brassica and the like are falling to them but also sweetcorn and tomatoes
But tge good news, I took a look at the first early potatoes and was sighted. The variety is Rocket https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/potato-rocket/zww5094TM
Three roots came in at 2 4kg, excellent, pass me the parsley please....
" It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons " Johann Friedrich Von Schiller
My father died shortly after early retirement so I did not have the " later life " conversations that some have. That my father was also a quieter man than I will make many of my friends smile because that is probably not an inherited characteristic of mine
A couple of years ago I revisited my birthplace and walked the garden that is still there. Of course many changes have been made but there are still some items from those days of the past. My father really did get the Rose "bug" and planted up dedicated beds of the Floribundas type. He even began experimenting and grafting to find that special one
I have to say that until I began the renovation of the Home Garden that roses were not high on my radar. Whilst I do appreciate the marvellous colours, fragrances, form and style they were not really me. They are now though! It is in my renovation work that I came to conclusions about how much would be missing and how much it could be gained. Some gardeners speak in terms of the " rhythm and harmony " within their planting scheme and I now " get that ". Roses are now central to mine and I have taken up that thinking, particularly by the planting of shrub, climbing and rambling roses. My choices will almost certainly be noted by rose lovers as I explored the catalogue. " Mme Alfred Carriere”, " Zéphirine Drouhin "," Albertine " and " Rambling Rector " are some
The recent warmer weather has boosted growth and flowering and it looks like June will become my month of rose enjoyment, Dad would approve....
" I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June."
― L.M. Montgomergy, Anne of Green Gables "
Early summer heat is always welcomed but particularly this of 2021 after the cold April and May we endured. It is a truism that a few warm days means you forget about the previous cold ones, or in this strange weather year, the months of cold ones. Let us leave it at that
On plot 106 it is all go and growing. Not everyone had fruit trees on their plot and those that do tend to inherit them from previous tenants but I put in half a dozen very early in my time. Apples, plums and pears are growing away very well now and carrying some fruit. I anticipate losing some at " June Drop " time but equally have my fingers crossed for some in the fruit bowl come Autumn. As well as a personal benefit the planting of these trees will, albeit on a small scale help absorb CO2 from the atmosphere
Until a few weeks ago I thought that the broad beans were going to be my first crop failure of this growing year. Sown over the Christmas period and planted out in late February, they just stayed and stayed hardly seeming to grow. Those weeks of cold and wet did not good but now you would not know it. The warmth and dryness has done them wonders and they ate now showing pods .... and the first sign of black fly
I have just begun planting out what we might consider as tender vegetables, climbing beans, tomatoes and now courgettes. Over the coming weeks squashes, sweetcorn and herbs will follow
Potatoes look very, very good. Flowers are showing along the trenches and that indicates just how far we are into the year
The first White butterflies are on the wing along with Brimstones still, Painted Ladies, commas, Common Blues and Red Admirals. The nearby copses echo to the drumming of woodpeckers.
A marvellous time of the year!
" Almost every person, from childhood, has been touched by the untamed beauty of wildflowers" Lady Bird Johnson
There is no doubt the wildflowers are one of the on trend gardening ideas right now. Not just in gardens but along roads, railway lines and motorways. On rooves, on the playing fields and across the park
Why is this? No one answer perhaps but more a combination of the loss of wildflower meadows in the country side, the continuing concern about climate and the environment, support for bees and insects and just simply for their beauty
My North Lancing neighbours David and Ruth planted up a wildflower area from turves and it it was David who said "come and take a look". I share some photos
Please let me have or share photos of your wildflowers
The good news for me is that David gave me some offcuts from the turves for the Home Garden, lucky me
Across the area where I live we now have an excellent wildflower trail, take a look here https://www.thewildflowertrail.org/
The look of pleasure, excitement and joy on David's face sums the whole thing up
Maybe you have room too...?
" Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education " Mark Twain
At last! The air is warming and encourages the gardener in us to move along at a brisker pace. Cold and wet are not great encourages but heat and sun certainly are. For weeks now greenhouse, cold frame and windowsill plants have just " stayed " there, alive but hardly thriving. But a week of warmer means they itch to be in the ground
I really do not want to upset you but Midsummer Day is under a month away. That being the case the sun rises early and I was down on Plot 106 by 6am with two trays of brassica plants to plant out there. First tray was cabbage Cabbice https://www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk/Vegetable-Seeds-1/Cabbage-Seed_2/Cabbage-Cabice-Veg-Seeds.html and cauliflower Boris ( really ) https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/cauliflower-boris-f1-hybrid/tm54711TM
I grew cabbages fairly successfully last year but not so cauliflower that were rather poor looking plants of a greyish colour that did not find favour with the catering team ...
So they are in now and covered over for protection. I have Midsummer on my mind now and the realisation of how far I am behind due to the cold and wet Spring but it will all get done .....
"It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart" Rainer Maria Rilke
Meteorologically it is a blocking high and practically it is low temperatures, rainfall and sunshine hours. It has been like that since the New Year here on the West Sussex coast. The last week has seen some welcome rain and sun plus the sounds of increased birdsong. But it is like all growing seasons, a challenge!
Windowsills, greenhouse and frame have been especially useful for me. I began growing very large numbers of perennial and biennial plants from seed last July ( much more interesting and much cheaper than straight purchases! ) and those spaces under cover have allowed it.
Delphiniums, Salvias, Lupins, Hollyhock, Carnations, Sweet Williams, Honesty, Clancy, Hemp Agrimony, Cardoons, Canatache, Verbena etc. etc. are in abundance
The quality of the light is important to all these plants and also to me giving a strong impression of how far I have come and how far I have to go on Home Garden 2019/2014. The basics are all there. Except for the Eco Shed the structure is there. It is the height and the levels that are now becoming apparent. The newly planted fruit trees added to the existing ones make the space seem much bigger. The climbers and ramblers take the garden upwards towards the beautiful sun and sky ....
" Exceptions are not always the proof of the old rule; they can also be the harbinger of a new one " .... Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
Although the Romans were the first to popularise and grow these plants, by the way the though of " Roman Sprouts " is very appealing, it was not until the medieval times that full production and growing began in the region of modern day Belgium. The appeal spread right across Northern Europe and they became popularly known as Brussels Sprouts in Victorian times
How so then the Jerusalem Artichoke, Swiss Card and the French Bean. Do they comply with geography. No is the short answer but they are so named and grown to pleasure and delight across the World
Being a member of the cabbage family is normally enough background to put people off a vegetable but as ever if you can forget about the boiled to death version, sprouts, like all cabbage family members are delicious. Sown in March or April and planted out by June they are a long term crop that depending on variety can be picked from September right through until the following April. A favourite with the Christmas meal, perhaps with walnuts, stir fried or the tops as spring greens makes for a versatile food
This year I am growing Evesham Special and they went into their bed today https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Vegetable-Seeds/Brussels-Sprout-Seed/Brussels-Sprout-Evesham-Special-Seeds.html#.YI518ut4WrU
On 106, the broad beans are into flower, all potatoes are now through, garlic, shallots and onions are looking good. I have transplanted garden peas. Rhubarb is now being picked and the raspberries and into growth. All the top fruit is into blossom
After an exceptionally dry Spring tomorrow has the potential for half an inch of rain but also gales. Well, it is May Bank Holiday !
" The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun." .... Robert Herrick
Spring has now arrived on the Sussex coast borne on cold northerly winds and overnight lows down to a most unwelcome minus two Celsius. And even in the daytime the strong sunshine whilst very welcome is not warming. As we get towards May there looks to be warming trend at least in the day but the very negative likelihood of frost. This air is dry. In fact since Christmas rainfall has been very slight and has usually come in a Wintery mix. By this definition we are in drought https://en.m.wikipedia.org/.../Drought_in_the_United_Kingdom
But how wonderfully the bulbs have looked throughout. No strong winds, little rain and sunshine has protected and preserved their beauty. Daffodils are crazily appearing even before the turn of the year but in Home Garden they have flowered beautifully for weeks. More spectacular for me are Tulips. Glorious colours and goblet sized flowers are putting in a memorable display
The greening of the large shrubs a trees is underway. We have a large elderflower astill and one very large buddleia left from the considerable clearance I have undertaken and although looking gaunt as a result of that are coming into their own. The Weeping Cherry is still buzzing with bees but the flowers are almost over. The large Flowering Cherry and " Wild " Cherry are coming into blossom. The reliable mature William Bon Chretien pear and Lanes Prince Albert Apple are a bright and brave blossom show
Fruit trees planted a year ago are just coming into blossom, Apple " Bramley ", Plum " Czar " and Cherry " Sunburst " A fortnight ago I took delivery of two more half standard fruit trees, Apple "Santana " and Pear " Beurre Alexandre Lucas ".
Height gives a sense of structure and beauty to a garden. The use of climbers growing through and up some of the trees mentioned above, trellis, archways and an arbour in the Home Garden will demonstrate that. Six Clematis have just gone in as well as three marvellous climbing/rambling roses from the Victorian/Edwardian era, " Zepherine Drouhin ", " Rambling Rector " and " Madame Alfred Carriere "
Literally springing into growth now are the Mock Orange, Wisteria, Honeysuckles, Everlasting Sweet Pea, Foxgloves, Lupins, Catmint, Hollyhocks, Passionflower, Sweet Williams and numerous others. Spring is here ....
The English winter – ending in July, to recommence in August.” – Lord Byron
In my part of coastal Sussex, 2021 has so far been a cold year and for almost a month, a very dry one. Snow is a rare visitor here in the last decade and although frosts do come along they tend to be light . Not so some recent nights with minus three Celsius measured and back in February minus five. Daytime temperatures have been lower than average. A sudden burst of warmth just before Easter took us to seventeen Celsius but overall temperatures have been in single figures. Light snow fell on Tuesday here.
So what is the impact on Plot 106? I am beginning my second full season so I do not obviously have much to compare it with but I make some general points.
Last April, broad beans Aquadulce were about eighteen inches high and showing flowers. This year about nine inches tall with no blooms in the offing.
Garlic planted in November has just stayed put, light green leaves about a foot high. Close relatives the onion ( sets ) and shallots ( I do like to cook with shallots ) have in the past week of less cold weather begun to perform. Of course it is what is going on below but that will not be revealed until June time. Perpetual spinach does what it says on the tin, largely unaffected by the cold and currently producing good new leaves. I am still lifting leeks! Clearly the weather has slowed the race to " go to seed ". I am delighted to have got all the potatoes, early and lates in. They are all deeply planted and covered with a combination of banked soils mixed with large amounts of composts. I anticipate the shoots of the earliest, " Rocket " putting in an appearance any day now. Great to report on the lovely deep green shoots now appearing at ground level on each one of the dozen " Autumn Bliss " raspberries planted at the turn of the year. The top fruit shows promise. I smile to myself thinking how ambitious I was early on planting half a dozen half standard trees. They will get up to a good four metres by the time I am eighty! Plum Czar is in bloom and the rest will not be far behind. First sowings of radish " French Breakfast " https://www.thompson-morgan.com/.../radish-french.../542TM and Spring Onion " White Lisbon " https://www.thompson-morgan.com/.../spring-onion.../528TM are through. No sign yet of Parsnip " Gladiator " https://www.thompson-morgan.com/.../parsnip.../706TM nor Beetroot " Boltardy " https://www.thompson-morgan.com/.../beetroot.../288TM
I am going to to working more intensively in the Home Garden for the rest of the month. Massive trees pruning and trimming shrubs, creating structures, planting trees and home sown perennials underway. Last year I shredded some shrubs to create some pathways but branches I have cut to size and brought down to be pea and bean supports on plot 106
On the allotments the water in now back on and there are large amounts of chippings and stable manures available. In addition to the many " pet " robins that we see I have noticed wrens too. On the odd warm day Brimstone, Red Admiral, Comma and Peacock butterflies glide past. No Whites yet !
New allotmenteers too. A buzz of activity as the newcomers make their mark on their plot. Great to see, to say " Hi " and give encouragement. Half a dozen children helping too
Despite the cold I have been able to take in the World whilst sitting on the bench that Frank made for me. It is a literal and metaphorical good place to be. I am writing this Blog there. So the cold has over stayed it's time but surely the soft air of true Spring and Summer are coming along. Next to me the Discovery Apple is a day or two from blossom time. In the distance those children laugh and help tame new plots. I leave this moment and speed forward wondering if they will continue to be here as adults. To when the top fruit on 106 is four metres tall. And of course, will I still be here ? Growing up and mortality, it must come to us all ....
More at https://thoughtfulgardeningwithandy.weebly.com
" Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
― Leo Tolstoy
Sometimes we hang onto items that really should have been moved on. Physical and of course emotional ones. Those books that no one reads anymore. Those old Levi 501s that do not flatter you. Something you have done in the past that preys on your mind. Move on they say. Declutter. Strike out anew
Some people find all that an easy thing to do. Some less so.
My Home Garden has been pretty much the same since we moved in over 30 years ago. Some additions and subtractions at the edges but generally the same. So why did the feeling come along to make changes?
The biggest factor is a very simple one. Time. Although I am currently very much involved with community projects and a little paid work there are the hours available to an almost work retired person like myself
And in the the classic of Big Bang/epiphany moment that began my thoughtful garden project, it was the " me " in " my garden " That having more time means I have an allotment, it means that I am able to see much more of other gardens and it means that I am reading and discussing them more
At the heart of my desire to change Home Garden is my small scale intervention to boost the local environment. So much that I grew up with in terms of plants, trees, birds, insects, open spaces and beauty has gone as a result of land management, climate change and remorseless destruction of habitat. Is what I am doing just a spit in the wind? Quite possibly. But I am am attracted to the thoughts that if many do this ( and they are ) it might begin to stack up. The grand plan is that the vast majority of the plantings are to provide habitat, nectar and forage for creatures
Home Garden at the moment does look sparse as I have stripped right back to create a new structure and plan across the plot. Many large shrubs have rigorously cut back or removed. It is physically hard work but I have got 80% of it done.
Over the winter I have been planting rose bushes/climbers (8) , clematis (4), fruit trees (6) and over 400 daffodils, tulips, iris, hyacinths, criniums, bearded iris and crocosima that provide quick Spring colour and attraction. In February I began to sow 30+ varieties of perennials like honesty, salvias, Michaelmas daisies, verbena, cone flowers, achilleas etc.
Large numbers of herbs are just being sown as are some spectacular dot plants like hemp agrimony, Echium pininana and cardoons. Especially exciting is my attempt to have paulownia tomentosa grow from seed to makes very special dot plants
These are exciting times at the Home Garden and for its key worker ....
"When the facts change, I change my mind" John Maynard Keynes
One of the great disappointments over the past ten years or so has been as a result of the polarisation of viewpoints. Being in the centre appears to be a sometimes lonely place surrounded on each side by to views that insist that they are "right". Pour social media onto the sparks and we have tremendous heat, but little light. So, it is with some trepidation and perhaps with my tongue in the corner of my mouth when asked is my allotment dig or no dig, I replied, both
My great buddy Frank King, a fellow allotmenteer delighted me with a brilliant surprise sign for plot 106. With two of my leitmotifs cat and butterfly and a barrow filled with produce it has the legend "Life is a garden dig it". A great pun on both the physical work and the feeling that it emotes
The no dig gardening movement is not very old. A Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka combined that work with philosophy to create "Natural Gardening" that he promoted in a 1975 book "The One-Straw Revolution". He also called it do nothing farming. It still meant work but of the non mechanical kind that boosted soil fertility. You placed organic composts onto the soil and nature via worms fungi and other soil born creatures produce optimum growing conditions. The cycle continued by cropping and then more composting. Charles Dowding is a smaller holder, writer and gardener who has been using no dig personally and commercially for forty years with great success. He has a brilliant YouTube channel and clearly has both belief and evidence for his success and is a great advocate for the method
On taking over 106 I planned to try both dig and no dig areas to see which suited best" That is my medium to long term plan, year 3 onwards. Classically with no dig you place either cardboard or carpet on the ground and place the compost on top once begin to grow. That was impossible on take over due to overgrowth, huge briars, perennial weeds and the like. Frank rotovated about a third of the area and I used that for first year cropping. Over the next year I double dug the whole plot. That was the beginning and the ending of digging the whole plot. From then on it was two areas about the same size, you guessed it, one dig the other not. The no dig was lavished with a rich diet on top of stable manure, bought and home made compost and straw. This year will be the first full cropping for that area.
The other half was split into two areas one benefitting from green manuring and it will be for beans and peas and then winter greens and the other single dug incorporating compost and manure that is for maincrop potatoes and the then green manuring September until March.
Rotation planning is a challenge under this set up but with some innovation achievable but even with this I am stretching the rules. I am not adopting the traditional three year system. Instead all vegetables excepting potatoes will be grown in blocks or as some call it "square foot gardening"
“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.” A.A. Milne
I like potatoes. Baked, chipped, mashed or roasted. One of the many advantages of having an allotment is having space to grow them. I have done so in the past at home with small row, in pots or in a deep bed but these vegetables do seem to like the wide open spaces that plot 106 allows. Last year down there I grew variety Charlotte as my earlies (they are technically a second early) https://www.gardenfocused.co.uk/vegetable/potatoes/variety-charlotte.php and they were really good. Good with salads and good enough to roast. Will be growing them again this year.
For my maincrop potatoes I chose Picasso and I will be growing them again https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/potato-picasso/tka8402TM as they were lovely bakers and mashed. I began lifting late August and they were of good size then.
This year I am also growing some first earlies and a second choice for maincrop. I read a few years ago that variety Rocket https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/potato-rocket/zww5094TM were the earliest potatoes to lift. I have tried them two years running in a deep bed at my home garden and in containers there. They did extremely well. So they are on plot 106 already, I put in a a couple of cheeky short rows this week! The extra maincrop is Desiree https://www.gardenfocused.co.uk/vegetable/potatoes/variety-desiree.php probably well known to everybody reading this. A beautiful red skinned variety
To minimise the risks to those Rocket potatoes, they went in to ground covered for about a month that is nice and dry and ready for planting. The tubers were well chitted and once in had a covering of compost before the soil went back over. I have banked them up to mitigate against any severe frost this month. I think they will be off to a very good start
I am very new to allotment growing and this growing season is my second full year so I am learning my trade but already I have a hard and fast rule about potatoes. To get the main crops out, dried off and in store by mid September. These two years have produced biblical amounts of rain in late September and October. Should there be an Indian Summer this year I will be sat on the bench on 106 knowing my spuds are lifted, enjoying the late season heat and probably looking forward to a jacket potato, or two for tea !
February is the shortest month in terms of days. Let us hope that the bitter winds, ice and snow of mid February 2021 stay short in the memory having been replaced by the sunshine and warmth of the Spring.
Spring. Our beloved season. Two thoughts on the season that I am minded of are by musicians. Bob Copper, the Sussex folk singer characterises the season as arriving when the air is "soft". I think we all know that feeling. And Lenard Cohen, not in a song but in his novel "Beautiful Losers" has "Spring comes into Québec from the west. It is the warm Japan Current that brings the change of season to the West coast of Canada, and then the West Wind picks it up. It comes across the prairies in the breath of the Chinook, waking up the grain and caves of bears ...
No bears on either the Home Garden nor plot 106, I have to say! But evidence of creatures of the land and air needing to sustain themselves at this time. The leaves of the purple sprouting broccoli, the sprouts and the January King cabbage that are uncovered are stripped by flocks of pigeons. Any uncovered sowings of early broad beans, peas, sweet peas would make a welcome fix for the voles and mice!
I have begun large numbers of sowings for perennial flowers. They will be used in my 2019/24 renovation for the Home Garden. I am working towards that whole plot being enticing and rewarding to Mother Nature when she calls. More about that over time but a little taster
Dru is very, very keen on butterflies and their conservation. With that in mind here is something that you might try. Honesty is the best policy they say. I agree. This plant has a tendency to sometimes be seen as weed like but we will not pursue that. It is quite a large plant producing purple flowers and excitingly transparent paper like discs that contain its seeds. It easily self sows. It is a member of the brassica family and there is the the clue to the butterfly connection. A somewhat rare visitor to the Home Garden is the Orange Tip butterfly one of the earliest types to emerge after Winter. They lay their eggs on Honesty
The coming weather week will be good here on the Sussex coast with high pressure nearby making it settled and sunny. I hope that you are able to enjoy that. And, if you are in Canada, that the bears are waking to welcome in this very special time .... .
" Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence. Henry David Thoreau
As in gardens, allotments have differing types of paths. Often, I am sure a newcomer keeps to what is in place. When I took over the plot was very overgrown, so much so that paths were not apparent. Meaning that there were no concrete, grass, paving slab types seen. So I could create my own paths. Given that there are regular loads of wood chippings left by local tree surgeons it was perhaps not rocket science to use those, and, I did that in year one to a depth of about two inches on one long and two smaller paths to divide the areas up
Wood chips have their champions and detractors on the matter of how they benefit, or do not benefit the soil. I was very clear in my mind that after the initial tidy up that included the use of a rotovator for about a third of the area and double digging the rest, no more digging would take place in my tenure. The alternative I chose was " no dig". That is to put manures and composts on there and along with green manuring build up the soil fertility, humus and bulk. Having done some research online, from books and speaking with gardeners, wood chips need a bit of thought before use in no dig projects. As they decompose initially, their interaction with the soil " robs " the latter of its nitrogen content, very much impacting future crops that need that essential component for growth. Over time and as full decomposition takes place the wood chips compost down and eventually boost soil fertility and replenish the nitrogen. Comments from you on this one, most welcome please !
What I did see in the year following making the paths was fairly rapid decomposition and many, many earthworms. In addition clear signs of fungal activity too. These two really pleasing
So this year using old bits of wood from the plot, home and anywhere it was offered, I have made some Mark 1 paths. Using the wood a bit like shuttering around concrete to help it set, in my case it is around fresh wood chippings to a depth of about six inches. Really the paths are linear compost heaps. I anticipate using them for three years and then changing the configuration of paths. We shall see
To say that the weather has been wet would be an understatement and cold. January here has been the coldest here since 2011. The days are lengthening and if it has been possible to make the preparations by cover certain areas then the planting season can go ahead
On January 5th I planted out Shallot "Golden Gourmet" and Onion "Autumn Red"
A great success last year were broad bean "Aquadulce Claudia" so I am returning to them. Sown on Christmas Eve in pots in my cold greenhouse and planted out on February 3rd
I planted quite a good variety of top fruit on the plot - Morello Cherry, William Bon Cretien Pear, Discovery Apple, Spartan Apple, Czar Plum and Bramley Seedless Apple. But little soft fruit so I bought some Raspberry canes "Autumn Bliss". Reason for this variety being they are a late cropper and the canes can all be cut back hard after fruiting, unlike the summer varieties, they are self supporting and were on sale at a good price!
As I type this up on my allotment seat it has been a lovely day, Spring like at 11 celsius. On Sunday heavy snow and bitter east winds are forecasted. But to use that quote of Henry David the path to true Spring is narrow but, yes we do walk on it in love and reverence .....
"There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep" Homer
January. The garden is sleeping. The turn of the year has been a much colder one than we have become accustomed to on the Sussex coast over recent years. Daytime temperatures are just above freezing, and the often-dark days exacerbate the chill. Thankfully the torrents of rain and winds ended in December temporarily, but the saturation and pool made the wake. On these days the sun rises at 8.05am and is gone by 1605pm. Eight hours of light out of the twenty-four. And what can we report? Brief minutes "checking" for broken panes on the greenhouse, fencing panels that might be loose; you get my drift, checking not gardening. I still have many large pots outside that are just empty or some with pelargoniums within their own pots, lifted inside. There have been gallons of rain tipped out of them. The irony cannot be lost of those hot days of August last year, " six consecutive days in the south with temperatures over 34 Celsius" when the water butts were dry, and the earth parched.
If gardens are sleeping, do they dream? Many are the theories about what dreams represent, indeed, Sigmund Freud set up a whole practice and movement to do just that. One theory on the purpose of dreaming is that it consolidates memories, strengthens them even and makes them easier to recall. Those are comforting thoughts. As are the sight of butterflies on the flowers, the sound of birdsong, the deep breath of fresh air, the emergence of plants from the ground and the door being open to hours of relaxation and enjoyment. Perhaps the garden dreams of these too.
By the end of January, the sun is rising by 7.37am and setting at 16.50pm. That is 70 minutes longer than at the beginning of the month. That is a positive thought. Winter will not be over, but we are moving towards the light, sustained by those thoughts and dreams ....
A rare break in the December days of wind, rain and darkness comes on Christmas Eve. Sunshine lighting up, like a stage, the crops on 106. Fennel, Globe Artichokes and the Italian Kale are really the crops of mid to late summer but grow and glow they do. A reality check comes from the Brussels Sprouts, Leeks, Spinach and emerging garlic hinting of the cold to come. The green manures are growing well and I will be digging some in during late January.
I heard a few days ago that Henry the Pig had to be put to sleep. How very sad for Jack, Colin and Maggie. The manure of Henry has produced great crops this year for me and I am very grateful. There will be a tree planting in the New Year in memory of my helper ....
I launched this website on 16th August 2020 to bring together my thoughts on gardening,, its importance for health and wellbeing and two projects running concurrently, a renovation of my own garden on the West Sussex coast at Lancing and a nearby allotment. But also to learn from other gardeners about the inspirations for their plots, about their gardening projects and enjoyment of beautiful plants and gardens