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Archive for the ‘Annuals’ Category

AquelegiasThese gorgeous Aquilegias (aka columbines, Granny’s bonnets) seemed to have exuberantly increased since last year (all on their own), and post spring bulbs, have joyfully created the next wave of interest in my back garden. These are the common Aquilegia vulgaris, readily morphing into all shades of pink, purples and whites, and although you can find many fancy and rather tempting hybrids to buy, these cottage garden favourites retain their appeal partly due to their simplicity and also to the fact that they can pop up in cracks in paving and in spots all over the garden. Mustard leaf +self seedersGiant red Mustard leaf is another welcome self-seeder and its deep purple leaf and bright yellow flowers have added a zing to an otherwise tasteful but rather pastel colour palette right now in this border. The groovy  Caper Spurge (Euphorbia lathyris) just to the right of the mustard leaf has also plonked itself right at the front of the bed, but it’s an airy plant with a wonderful texture and a wild upside down alien-like tripod structure which always adds a richness to the planting. I think I dug one up from my parents garden over 15 years ago and it appears all over the garden in different positions every year. In summer I can actually hear the seed casings popping as another seed is ejected and flung into the garden. I love it! Seet cicely and aquelegiasUmbel-like Sweet Cicely flowers have joined the throng of pinks and purples, alongside globes of Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, Geranium psilostemon sport and I’m pleased to see Phloxes, Roses, Geranium psilostemon (above) and Sisyrinchium coming along too so that they’ll be continued colour in the border once the Aquilegias have gone over. Astrantia and Arum italicumIn a shadier spot, Astrantia (‘Shaggy’ I think) looks great with the self-seeded (and a tad thuggish if you let it) Arum italicum as a backdrop, and I can see a couple of teasels (Dipsacus fullonum) popping up too to give height and drama to these areas for summer. Notable hole Just one noticeable gap in the bed where I divided a Verbena ‘Bampton’ , left it kicking around in an old compost bag for weeks before replanting a bit later in the year and not surprisingly, (but disappointingly) it’s not returned this spring. Bit of a shame as it was a lovely mid-height variety with pink flowers, but it looks like the raspberries will colonise this spot as the season moves on, again, without much interference on my behalf. Not quite what I’d planned, but great when nature will fill in the gaps for you.

P.s. If you’re having problems with your Aquilegias this year, you’re not alone. Read this Telegraph article from earlier in the year about a killer Aquilegia mildew and how best to deal with it.

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Tree pit planted with wildflowers

About 5 years ago, our community veg growing project was launched when Islington Council gave away free wildflower seeds for tree pits (the base around trees). Since then, pimping our pavements has become a regular part of our horticultural activities, and an edged tree pit has become the holy grail of our street planting.

Planting up tree pits

When the council included our community project as part of their entry into London and Britain in Bloom, they kindly helped us along with edging fifteen of our pits.

Just those few extra inches make all the difference,

Eugenie Biddle-tree pit winner

allowing residents to plant perennials alongside wildflowers and other annuals.

Nikki with Everedge edging

Sadly, these resources are no longer available from the council, but we do have enough funding to have a go at DIY tree pit edging. And here’s Nikki, our first DIY tree pit candidate. The metal EverEdge edging comes in packs of five 1 metre lengths, that easily interlock to create a continuous border. We were slightly alarmed at how rigid it sseemed at first, but bending was more do-able than we at first thought, simply wrapping the metal around a piece of wood (instructions are enclosed!) and using a bit of elbow grease.

Before pic of tree pit

Since it was our first attempt, we did learn a few lessons along the way.

  • Ask your neighbours to move their cars the day before, for easier access to the tree pit!
  • Don’t permanently join your lengths of EverEdge together until you have created all the bends on all of the pieces
  • You’ll need more soil to fill the tree pit (once it’s been created) than you think
  • You’ll need a large mallet for hammering in the edging, plus some wood for shaping the corners and to use with the mallet (see pic below) (more…)

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Cos freckles lettuce 2

Just before Christmas, Mark from Vertical Veg  sent out a questionnaire for growing in 2013. It contained a few simple and very pertinent questions and ones which got me thinking about the many positive aspects of growing your own fruit and vegetables. Question one: why do you grow your own food?

For me, I find it joyful and incredibly rewarding to be able to pick fresh veg from our doorstep. And it’s not just picking any old veg. It’s being able to choose and grow the things that you really love to eat and that will flourish in the growing conditions that you have in your garden. In a less than sunny part of the front garden, my lettuces thrived throughout the dampest of summers and supplied delicious sweet fresh leaves, unsprayed by supermarkets (and with zero food miles) for months on end. Pea shoots came a close second, supplying a succulent alternative to lettuces and being very quick to grow (about 3 weeks from sowing to harvesting from May onwards). I also love growing food that is sometimes difficult (or impossible) to buy in the shops and I’m going to really concentrate on the less run-of-the-mill herbs next year such as Lovage, Sorrel and Sweet Cicely.

Autumn fruiting raspberries

Next question. What’s your biggest challenge? Time (and space-could do with an extra half an acre at home!). Allotments are great, but they do take a feat of organisation to fit in with our busy lives. Whatever I grow on the allotment (leeks , raspberries, jerusalem artichokes….), I still love the fact that I can harvest salad leaves, strawberries and rhubarb only minutes before cooking them if I can grow them in the front or back garden (or in a pot on a windowsill or balcony). Jono from Real Men Sow has written an excellent piece on giving up his allotment and his move to growing everything (including some ornamentals) in his new garden at home.

Space in our urban environment is another constant challenge; trying to squeeze in everything I’d love to grow, but then planning becomes the key to getting the most out of our growing space.

Asparagus tips

In 2013 I’m planning for more effective successional growing, so that as soon as one spot becomes available, I’ll have the right seeds or small plants to pop right in there, and for sowing at the right time of year to provide crops throughout the seasons. Next year I’ll be attempting to fine tune my seed sowing for autumn and winter lettuces (I reckon August is the key month) and trying not to forget (in all the spring excitement) to sow seeds for some purple sprouting broccoli, as I always regret the absence of this fine vegetable come the following year. I’m planning to grow more perennial fruit, vegetables and herbs such as Rhubarb, Blackberries, Asparagus and Marjoram that will happily look after themselves (apart from the odd bit of mulching and training) and hopefully this will leave me with a bit more time for some more ‘no dig’ trials and to sow some new crops that I’ve only dreamed about so far.

During this wettest of Christmas holidays, it’s been great to have time to reflect and imagine my ideal plot, and I wish you all a Happy New Year, and one full of exciting growing experiments and successes throughout 2013, whatever or wherever your veg plot is.

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