Bulb lasagne

England would not be the ‘green and pleasant land’ that it is without the rain, but this weekend someone somewhere forgot to turn off the tap! My garden was not so much ‘green and pleasant’ as ‘soaked and soggy’, so I turned to my list of wet weather jobs and retreated to the garage to make some bulb lasagnes – no pasta involved!

The right combination

Planting spring bulbs in a pot is a great way to ensure you have a splash of colour on your patio or doorstep next year, and is ideal for even the smallest of spaces. To prolong your display, layer bulbs (hence the lasagne analogy) that will flower at slightly different times and will grow to different heights. A bit of Internet research suggested that mixed tulips, tête a tête narcissi and dwarf irises work well together, so that’s what I’ve gone for. The pictures next year will prove whether it works or not.

The technique

Take a large frost-hardy container (about 30 cm diameter) with holes in the base, and line the bottom with good drainage material (e.g. broken shards of terracotta pot, ripped-up polystyrene pieces, gravel). Add a layer of compost or bulb fibre, then plant the biggest bulbs, in this case the tulips. They can  be packed in quite closely, but shouldn’t touch. You could probably go for more bulbs than depicted here (but I was splitting bulbs between several pots so was being a bit frugal).

Bulb lasagne, layer 1, tulips

Layer 1: tulip bulbs

Cover with about 5 cm of compost and then add a layer of medium-sized bulbs – in this case tête a tête narcissi and a few standard-sized daffodils (experimenting!).

Bulb lasagne, layer 2, daffodils

Layer 2 : ‘daffodils’

Cover with another 5 cm of compost and add a final layer of the smallest bulbs (irises).

Bulb lasagne, layer 3, dwarf irises

Layer 3: dwarf irises

Add compost to the top of the pot, and water as required. You can finish off with some gravel or slate chippings, which will help to retain moisture. Shelter from frost, and keep an eye on the pot over the winter to ensure it doesn’t dry out.

Finally, as ‘patience is a virtue’, be patient, and wait for Spring.

Gardening by the sea

If I thought my clay soil made gardening a challenge, it is nothing compared to the unique set of challenges faced by friends of mine who have a house right on the sea front in Selsey.

Pebble garden by the sea at Selsey

Pebble garden by the sea

Although this pebbly garden is probably not prone to frost and snow, it is constantly exposed to high winds and huge amounts of sea spray heavy with salt, and beneath those pebbles is sandy soil that doesn’t hold water well.

As you can see, the garden is only a few metres from the sea and there is no natural windbreak, so my friends need super tough plants that will survive such inhospitable conditions. Of all the plants they have tried so far, only one grass and a few hardy succulents have stuck it out.

Selsey coastal garden plantSelsey coastal plantsHaving said that, the star turn in the garden is an exotic-looking bromeliad Fascicularia bicolor, which – fortunately – thrives on neglect. Endemic to Chile, it has tough spiney rosettes of leaves, the centre of which turns bright scarlet as it comes into flower.

Selsey-Fasciculari- bicolorSo we’re looking for suggestions. All comments welcome.

 

Planting wood anemones

Anemone nemorosa produces carpets of blooms in spring

Anemone nemorosa produces carpets of blooms in spring

Today I’m planting wood anemones, a first for my garden. Wood anemones provide beautiful carpets of early-spring blooms and, provided there is access to sun, are ideal for planting in semi-shade under trees and shrubs.

Many woodland plants have bulbs or tubers that store food until it is needed to produce new growth. The two varieties of Anemone nemorosa that I’m planting (the blue-lavender ‘Robinsaniana’ and white ‘Vestal’) have fibrous rhizomes that rapidly spread through leaf litter just below the surface. In theory, once I’ve planted a few, they will then naturalize and spread year on year, as even small pieces of rhizome can make new plants.

Anemone nemorosa Vestal rhizome

Anemone nemorosa – Vestal (white) / 5 woody rhizomes planted on corner of raspberry bed, around fern, among tulip bulbs

Anemone nemorosa robinsaniana rhizome

Anemone nemorosa – Robinsaniana (lavender-blue) / 5 woody rhizomes planted under willow tree among tete-a-tete daffodil bulbs

I’m also planting Anemone blanda ‘White Splendour’ (aka Winter windflower) alongside my front driveway for an early splash of colour to lift the spirits as we come and go from the house.

Anemone blanda White Splendour corn

Anemone blanda – White Splendour / 25 corns planted in flower bed bordering driveway in between primroses and lavender

Planting instructions

Anemones should be planted at least 3-5 cm deep and no less than 10 cm apart. Wear gloves to avoid skin irritation. It is highly recommended that you soak the bulbs/rhizomes in water for 24 hours before planting. They thrive best in well-drained soil enriched with plenty of organic matter – hence the compost dig yesterday. The richer the soil, the more flowers each rhizome or tuber will produce.

Soak anemone bulbs for 24 hours before planting

Soak anemone bulbs for 24 hours before planting

Lots more useful information available at Gardening Know How.

Compost composition

compost corner

Compost corner

Today, in between the rain showers, I dug out some compost to add to the flower beds. I found quite a decent amount of composted material at the bottom of the bin, but to be honest it is more slimy than crumbly.

I’ve done some research, and discovered I’m being too green!

‘Greens’ and ‘browns’

Ideally, compost should be a 50:50 balance between green and brown materials. The ‘greens’ are quick to rot and provide nitrogen and moisture, while the ‘browns’, which are slower to rot, provide carbon and fibre, and help air pockets to form.

To date, the bulk of my compost has comprised fruit and vegetable peelings/skins, used tea bags and grass mowings, so I need to change the balance a little. Of the ‘brown’ items in the lists below, I compost egg shells, used kitchen towels and a few leaves. From now on I’ll be adding egg boxes and other cardboard along with the contents of my vacuum cleaner (ew!), and next time my husband gets his hair clippers out, well …

Greens

  • Animal manure with straw
  • Coffee grounds
  • Comfrey leaves
  • Cut flowers
  • Fruit peel, cores and pulp
  • Grass mowings and hay
  • Old bedding and vegetable plants
  • Raw vegetable peelings/waste
  • Soft prunings, hedge clippings and plant debris
  • Tea leaves and bags
  • Urine
  • Weeds (see text)

Browns

  • Autumn leaves
  • Cotton wool and wool
  • Egg shells
  • Egg boxes and plain cardboard
  • Evergreen prunings
  • Hair
  • Natural corks
  • Paper bags
  • Straw
  • Sweetcorn cobs
  • Used kitchen paper
  • Vacuum cleaner contents
  • Wood ash

Composting weeds

I spend so much time pulling weeds out of the garden that the last thing I want to do is reintroduce weed seeds back into the soil. So it has been a bit of a revelation to find out that it’s okay to compost weeds, provided you follow a few simple rules. Before composting, make sure annual weeds:

  • haven’t yet reached the seed-bearing stage – so to be extra sure, I plan to add them to the compost before they have flowered
  • are not the type that propagate by runners.

Perennial weeds are a bit trickier. The roots of ground elder, couch grass, nettles, creeping buttercup, dandelion and docks can survive for a long, long time and will keep growing in the compost. If you’ve got the space then you should keep them in darkness for 2 years before adding to the compost, but for most of us it’s probably better to play it safe and only add the leaves of these plants –  not the roots!

You can make extra sure that you don’t spread weeds in your garden by practising ‘hot composting’, i.e. turning the pile regularly and ensuring it really heats up. One website that I visited suggested using a compost thermometer: a hot compost pile of 60–65 degrees C (140–150F) for several days, or 49 degrees C (120F) for a longer period, will kill any weed seeds. But, to be frank …  life is too short to be checking the temperature of my compost heap!

Failure is not an option

The good news is, you cannot fail with composting, because whatever you do …  it happens. Whatever composition and consistency you end up with, the addition of organic matter to your soil will benefit your plants. Compost improves soil structure and aeration. Importantly, for my garden, it loosens clay soil, and if you have sandier soil, the addition of compost will increase its water-holding capacity.

Ultimately, plants grown in compost-rich soil will be healthier and stronger, and will fruit and flower more. Oh, and you never know, there may be other benefits … it might make me vacuum more often!!

Simply …

Simply November sunshine

November sunshine

It’s been a challenging week. I’ve not felt well, work has been hectic, and the rain and wind have been battering the garden in equal measure. But this morning ‘the sun came out and dried up all the rain, and incy wincy spider’ … well, there are plenty of those about. So my 15 minutes of green today didn’t involve weeding or pruning, walking or cycling, it was simply … 15 minutes of green.

15 minutes of green, revelling in the mirror stillness of the pond, the warmth of the sunshine, the vibrant hues of leaves of varying shapes and shades, melodious birdsong, a small tortoiseshell on the wing, blue tits flitting between bird table and nuts.

Wendy the wren

#wendythewren

And then, an added bonus, the distinctive secretive scurrying of a wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) as it searched among the rocks around the pond for insects and spiders. What a fabulous little bird. Dumpy yet delicate.

So, for 15 minutes, forget the head cold, and the mountain of work waiting for me on my PC … what a perfect morning.

 

First-time leaf cuttings

According to those in the know, the best time to take leaf cuttings from marguerites (argyranthemum) is mid-spring to summer … so, I’m a bit late! But seeing as there are still some decent-looking shoots on my one patio specimen I thought I’d give it a go before the first frosts hit. Here’s how I got on …

Argyranthemum leaf cutting - select a strong shoot

Select a strong shoot, and cut straight below the leaf joint

Argyranthemum leaf cutting remove lower leaves

Remove leaves from the lower third of the cutting

Argyranthemum leaf cutting - dip in rooting powder

Dip in water, then into rooting powder

Argyranthemum leaf cuttings

Plant immediately, spacing the cuttings so the leaves do not touch

The cuttings are now residing in my mini-greenhouse, so there should be enough humidity to stop the leaves drying up too quickly … watch this blog for updates on their progress.

I’ve never taken leaf cuttings before, so this is a bit of an experiment for me. Please feel free to leave your comments – all constructive advice is most welcome!

Mahonia on the move

mahonia-flowers

Yellow flowers of Mahonia japonica provide winter colour

This weekend we moved our Mahonia japonica. Established trees and shrubs should only be moved if absolutely necessary, as there will undoubtedly be some degree of stress when the plant is uprooted. Unfortunately, this beautiful specimen (currently in full bloom and providing some much-needed late pollen for the bees) had started to grow out at an angle away from the large coniferous hedge behind it. So, although it’s been flourishing in this dry shady spot, the time had come to move it.

It wasn’t a job we were particularly looking forward to (I say ‘we’, as I enlisted the brute strength of my husband on this occasion), as the Mahonia’s spine-toothed leathery leaves don’t make it an easy specimen to get to grips with.

All I can say is … ouch! But in 15 minutes the deed was done (we’d pre-dug the hole), and my Mahonia now has the room to grow tall and straight.

straight-mahonia

… and after

Mahonia japonica

Before …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for minimizing the trauma of transplantation:

  • Water the soil well the day before moving
  • Prune lightly if possible
  • Lift the plant with as much rootball intact as possible
  • Prepare the new hole in advance and lift and replant in one operation
  • Mix some fresh compost in with the existing earth
  • On transplanting, firm around the base of the plant carefully
  • Water thoroughly after planting, and keep watering if the weather is dry until it’s established