Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Gentian Diana from Spalding Bulbs

Part of the agreement with Spalding Plant and Bulb Company for having their logo on here is that I will review some of their plants from time to time.   Someone from their blogger club sent me an electronic catalogue of plants and said I could choose one for free as long as I wrote about it.  I chose a Gentian Diana for its striking blue flowers and also because I killed one of my own last year and fancied having another go.  Gentians are perennials and of course are dormant at the moment.  It's quite hard to review a plant that arrives looking dead but of course it isn't and the roots are nice and healthy so I'll do what I can to share the experience so far.

The Gentian arrived securely packaged in a kind of green plastic bubble wrapped around with brown paper and then a box so large that my colleagues presumed I had arranged for a sofa to be delivered to the office.  This is the same as my other experiences with mail order plants and although the packaging can seem over-zealous at times, I presume these people know what they are doing.

Gentian in a green plastic bubble

The gentian was completely unscathed when unwrapped.

Gentian survivor of the Christmas mail

There was a label enclosed in fourteen different languages which implies this is a truly international plant; however all this does say is that the plant is dormant and therefore in the best state to go in the post.  This variety of nationalities suggests to me it could thrive in a whole host of different habitats but this information wasn't enclosed and I couldn't find it on line.

Unidentified languages included with this gentian

There were a whole load of vouchers and plant catalogues enclosed and an offer of a free hardy palm with any order.  Offers of free plants are like a red rag to a bull to a plantaholic like me although goodness where I would put a hardy palm which apparently can grow to twelve metres.  I was about to write that I already have eighteen sweet peas on the go for next year and nowhere to put them but then I told myself off for exaggerating as there was no way I had that many.  I then went out and counted them and there are twenty five.  (If anyone is passing in spring and would like a few sweet peas you are welcome.)   Anyway, this new relationship with Spalding Bulbs could lead to dangerous new levels of plant collection.

There was nothing in the way of care instructions which I would have appreciated.  I had to look this up online but that's not a huge problem and the care instructions are also available on the website.  I do like to keep plant labels though, for future reference.  The website says that Gentian Diana prefers acid soil but a novice like me could have done with the word ERICACEOUS compost spelled out in big red letters.  I made the mistake of ignoring that advice on the last gentian I bought.  I read today that 'normal' compost makes acid lovers go yellow and die which is exactly what the last one did.  As I am now responsible for reviewing this plant I felt I should give it every opportunity to stay alive and so I got a scoopful of the right compost from my neighbour (thanks Tracy), potted it on and wrapped it in a nice fleece as it was freezing outside.

Gentian Diana snug in its fleece

Spalding Plant and Bulbs say that their plants come with a one to five year guarantee but I couldn't find out what that means.  Can you take it back if you allow the dog to pee on it, never water it or plant it in the wrong compost like me?   I wasn't clear.

Gentian Diana retails at £9.95 on the website which is very expensive for a perennial plus delivery is £4.95.  They do offer a track and trace facility so you can work out what day your plant will arrive.  I have had little experience of ordering plants online before, partly because of the high cost of delivery charges and also because I can't guarantee on being in to receive them.   I get them delivered to work but I don't always work in the same place so I do need a rough idea when they are coming.  Anyway, it didn't matter with this one and delivery was free for the review anyway.

All in all, it seems like a good quality plant with healthy roots, safely packaged, quite pricey but once you start ordering there are more offers to be had.  I will be charting its progress on here over the course of the summer and looking forward to some of its late summer flowers.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Time to plant some bulbs

Hours spent gardening: 6
Bulbs planted: another 264
Plants purchased: 0
Sycamore leaves collected: 6243
Worms accidentally guillotined: 200 or so

I've been anguished over bulbs after having seen the tulips by Bloms Bulbs at Chelsea this year and vowing I would have them for myself.  It was only after 6 months of drooling over their catalogue that I noticed the price tag of £7.50 for a pack of ten tulips.  This stopped me right in my tracks.  The upwardly mobile side of me (some might say shallow) was attracted by the statement on the website that said that Blom's are suppliers to Europe's finest stately homes.  At last, a touch of class for Clapton, I said.  Unfortunately, after endless nights agonising over Tulipa Jan Reus and wondering how I could justify it all in a recession, I allowed myself to purchase just thirty bulbs.

There is something about bulb planting time.  The nights draw in and this is our last chance to be outdoors.  Planting bulbs feels like a final fling of connection between the cycle of life and decay; handling bare earth lays down the foundations of the new shoots of next year.  Bulbs signify the signs of life at winter's end: the gold of the first crocus that promises the passing of harder times and the first sign of thaw.  Here, autumn's damp has long since sent the reggae blasters indoors.  In November, I am the only one still outside, the sharpness of the cold on my hands, the song of the robin in the tree, a thin golden sunset framed by the trees.

These primaeval instincts to plant, sow and divide were not going to be satisfied by thirty bulbs.  I then went on a kind of bulb binge, buying job lots of cheap ones from DIY stores.  Colour scheme went out of the window.  I chose the tulips from Bloms after hours of deliberation, settling for succession planting of pink, soft white and the darkest red verging on black.  At B&Q, I loaded the trolley with bargain bags of more tulips, fritillaria and an iris mixed that included yellow (normally banned around here, daffodils and crocus being the exception).  Everything was stuffed into the ground in a frenzy.  The other thing about the act of planting was forgetting where all the other bulbs were from last year and splicing through them with the bulb planter.  In this way, you can ensure I always have gaps to fill and thus feel justified in buying more plants.  I also managed to decapitate a couple of hundred worms.  I think I mentioned not being a very good organic gardener before.

The final mix is a combination of Bloms, JP Parkers, Spaldings (free for joining their blogger club and sticking the logo on here), Homebase and B&Q.  It's a kind of sliding scale of the social ladder of bulbs..  I'm waiting to see if the Bloms ones really perform better in the spring or whether we can all rest easily knowing that spending £9.99 on a pack of 100 will do the job just as well.

Chelsea Flower Show, 2012

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Europe's shortest herbaceous border

Hours spent gardening: 6
Plants purchased: 0
Hours awake all night coughing: 12 (have man 'flu)
Plants divided: 7
Bulbs planted: 254
Sycamore leaves collected: 5231

It's that time of year when gardeners go dormant like perennials and ease themselves into an armchair with a pile of seed catalogues to hand.  I had been planning to redesign the back bed (formerly known as the veg patch) and suddenly realised we were cruising towards late November without having given it a second thought.  The original plan had been to recreate something inspired by a visit to The Broadwalk Herbaceous Border at Hampton Court last year (Europe's longest herbaceous border at 580 metres).  I've been dreaming all year about foxgloves and irises interspersed with allium heads nodding in the breeze, the whole thing held together by silver foliage and towers of sweet peas ready to burst into bloom.  You know the kind of thing I mean.  As I type this, I realise how ludicrous this is given that the border I am dealing with is 2 metres long and partially in shade.  It seems logical to call it The Short Border from now on.  Since my original plans, the recession has put a damper on frivolous spending habits in London's chi-chi garden centres.  This could actually be a good thing in my horticultural evolution.  I can see from other blogs that real gardeners are busy propagating, taking cuttings, growing things from seed and making everything go further with plant division.  Only city types are whiling away Sundays in the plant equivalent of Harvey Nichols, where the customers think that agastache are people who make 'eyewear' and compost is a nightclub on the Dalston fringe.  Times are hard and I will just have to grow my own.

The Broadwalk Border, Hampton Court Palace.  Taken in May (obviously)

Irises at Hampton Court, something to aspire to

A close up of those alliums

Unfortunately, what was missing from the new thrifty revolution was planning.  I've read the books on planting plans.  I've got a little compass in order to draw the expected diameter of plants, bought the plant encyclopaedia with what goes where and even have an app so that you can point your ipad around the garden and it will tell you what to plant.  So did I make a planting plan?  Reader, I did not.

What actually happened was this.  In the midst of some carefully planned bulb planting activity, I realised winter was almost upon us and I must act now if the Short Border was to be anything in time for next year.  A selection of random bulbs went in following by some foxglove seedlings that had, as usual, been neglected and were bursting out of their posts.  Some had to be discarded due to a coating of white mold.  Then came a frenzy of plant division reminiscent of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  (Things were not helped by the fact that Le Photographe has broken my spade.)  A geranium phaeum was torn into pieces, a hosta Frances Williams pulled apart and stuffed carelessly in the most slug prone part of the garden. A grass was ripped into shreds leaving blades of grass scattered as if attacked by a combine harvester.   A mixed pack of iris bulbs were poked in in an unpredictable rash of colours including yellow (normally banned from my colour pallet, daffodils excepted) and alliums went into the shade without a thought as to whether they could actually grow.  A lack of markers has rendered the bulbs vulnerable to the reckless and over enthusiastic gardener who is prone to going in and digging up areas she has forgotten have been planted.  Squirrels, foxes and cats roam on the area, routing for bulbs or simply welcoming the open and freshly turned ground to be used as their personal toileting area or as a dining area for those who believe bulbs are edible.

Images of The Short Border are available but are unsuitable for readers under 18.

Cyclamens and Cineraria, Hackney November 2012

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Holidays in Spain

Hours spent gardening: 0
Hours the Spanish were seen to be gardening: 0
Number of plants in full bloom: 1000000
Number of plants observed to be dead, dying or failing to thrive despite being completely ignored: 0
Spanish gardening magazines purchased: 0 (language skills limited to ordering wine in all three colours at the bar)

Just back from two weeks in Andalucia spent lolling around swimming pools, on beaches or the terraces of bars.  There was not so much as a gardening magazine in sight.  Spain, I was told by the owner of our apartment, has two flowering seasons.  Everywhere we went, there were plants bursting with blooms, yet not once did I see a Spaniard feeding, deadheading, trimming or training a single plant, never mind spraying on some terrible chemical to get rid of an infestation or disease.  Time is spent gossiping with neighbours, taking an evening stroll, propping up the bar at the venta or taking a siesta.  That's rural Spain for you.  The only concession the Spanish made to gardening was to set up lots of sprinklers, preferably ones that go on abruptly and automatically in the twilight so as to both scare and soak the guests.

Village street in the Ronda mountains

A traditional matador in the famous bullring of Ronda

I came back to find that a combination of heat and downpours had left the garden coated in autumn leaves.  Next door's cats had filled the veg patch with cr** in spite of the alarm.  The petunias had breathed their last breath, tomato plants dessicated without producing fruit and the lavender had collapsed under its weight. Spiders are everywhere and there is a profusion of miniature, unsquashable slugs.  Our friends appointed to water had kidnapped my chilli plant, feeling it needed a better south facing home. I have yet to succeed in its release.  Apparently it has now sprung into bloom and is producing a chilli crop sufficient to feed Mexico.

Monty Don, the celebrity gardener, wrote on organic gardening in the August edition of Gardener's World.  Monty tells us to 'relax your grip', advising that the organic garden 'heals itself' and that we should garden with nature rather than fighting it.  The organic gardener becomes part of a finely balanced system rather than lord and master of the realm.  Something tells me that Monty never came back from his holidays to find his garden gone wild in his absence.  It took two of us four hours to gain control. Does Monty just sway a bit with the breeze and it all comes together?  I must have a lot to learn.

Pretentious Andalucian touch I added after the holiday

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The seedy truth about this blog

Le Photographe and I were sitting in a restaurant last night when he said to me, "You know one thing I like about you?  Your honesty."

I was pleased with this at first.   (Le Photographe was of course referring to my character as I don't have an honesty plant in my garden.)   Honesty is definitely something I aspire to personally; I was born and bred in Yorkshire where a spade will always be a spade and not a hand-crafted oak-barreled blunted plant division instrument.  So when I got home, I was on the patio, admiring the Cosmos in the moonlight when I realised with horror that I had grown them from SEEDS.

Now readers of this blog will know that I have previously dissed and disrespected seeds.  I made grand statements about how real people with day jobs don't have time for them, perhaps even inferring from this that I might be a high octane career woman who is so busy with board meetings she has no room in her life for seeds.  It was thus that I was even more mortified when I looked around and noticed how much stuff I have at the moment that was grown from seed.  A restless night ensued, tossing and turning, knowing I had to come on here and confess to having grown things from seed.

It isn't that bad a lie: successful seedlings here have only survived by either freaks of nature or extraordinary resilience in the face of neglect.  What usually happens is this: I plant the seeds following the instructions on the packet to the letter.  If they're lucky, they'll get potted on but then it all goes wrong.  Seedlings don't like being transplanted, no matter how careful you are not to touch the root.  The sight of rows of little wilting plants disheartens me and then I start to lose interest.  Most of them will die of dehydration at this point but a few of the tougher ones will insist on growing up until I cannot bear the sight of mature plants bursting out of their 5 cm plastic pots any longer and will have to cave in and plant them out.

Eventually therefore some seedlings did grow into mature plants.  This is not that surprising by the laws of mathematics as I probably planted thousands of seeds.  Here's a confessional of some of these hardy plants that survived my gardening.

Cosmos bipiniatus 'Purity'.  Allegedly

These Cosmos seeds came free with a magazine, thus justifying the £3.99 price tag.  I didn't think I liked Cosmos and have no idea what made me plant them other than whatever primitive compulsion drove me to sow thousands of seeds.  I am quite pleased with them now as they have added this season's must-have height into the garden.  The packet said they were white but some of them are pink and are not the species it said it was on the packet.

Scabious Pin Cushion Mix only they weren't very mixed.

Only a few of these survived to adulthood.  The packet said they would flower in June but the cruelty they experienced in their youth has presumably delayed their development as they are in flower now.  The packet showed mixed pinks and white but only the white ones grew.  An impulse buy.

Cornflower Blue Boy

As seedlings, these were on their way to the compost heap when Le Photographe flung himself into my path in the manner of someone pleading for someone's life in front of the guillotine.  A bit of staking and they turned out ok.

Poppy Cherry Glow

Another packet free with a magazine.  My dad tried to weed up the seedlings until Le Photographe (perhaps aspiring to become the patron saint of little seedlings) stepped in again to point out the little label I had planted in the ground to stop myself weeding them.  These brilliant red flowers lasted precisely 24 hours before all the petals dropped off.   They have however left some attractive seedheads (below).

Poppy seedheads

Verbena bonariensis

These were left to die in these little biodegradable pots that I had bought in a freak moment of deciding to garden organically.  The seedlings appeared to refuse to grow and were devoured by slugs when I noticed that the roots had long since eaten their way out of the pots and were practically begging for their lives.

Sweet Pea Anniversary Mix.  A severe case of powdery mildew.

Another magazine freebie - from last year's Gardener's World.  Ironically I tried quite hard with these, planting the seeds in toilet roll tubes so their roots had room to grow.  Which just shows what fickle things plants are: those love the most will pay you back with a disease. 

Monday, 27 August 2012

Coffee outlawed as slug deterrent

According to today's Daily Telegraph, European Union bureaucrats have stated that using coffee grounds to deter slugs is illegal.  Using anything that has not 'passed through the system' to officially be called a pesticide risks prosecution for the gardener.  The list of forbidden items stretches to salt, eggshells, tea leaves, water infused with garlic and other methods used by gardeners throughout the UK who only wish to fend for  their plants by the most innocently organic means.  Presumably EU politicians have total disregard for gardening in a way that is cheap or organic or that might even be fun (anyone with a sadistic streak who has poured salt on a slug will know what I mean).

Brussels politicians must wake up to this kind of thing every morning

Dr Andrew Halstead, principle plant scientist at the RHS has warned that gardeners using coffee grounds as slug repellent could risk heavy fines - although the chances of prosecution, he suspects, are remote.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Furry Foes

Hours spent gardening: 1 (cannot think of any gardening jobs suitable for August, what am I missing?)
Slugs killed: 3
Plants bought: 0 (wrong time of year I guess)
Gardening magazines purchased: 1

Slugs have been on the wane here so my attention has turned to next door's cats who like to have a dump on my borders.  On warm summer days I peep through the orange fence to spy on them sunning themselves on their lawn.  They have a little routine for these moments: relax, have a stretch and then think, "I know, I'll go and have a crap next door."  No wonder that I broke one of my mantras this week ("Claire, thou shalt not covert more gardening magazines!") when I saw this month's feature in Gardener's World: KEEP CATS OFF YOUR BORDERS.  It shouted to me off the shelf.  This turned out to be worth the money as there were a few things I didn't know about cat repelling, such as putting a string of wire on top of your fence.  Unfortunately this isn't really suitable for a small garden unless I want it to look like Her Majesty's Holloway Prison.  Sprinklers are also mentioned but this is madness for someone without a lawn.   Here's my own summary of my anti cat tactics so far.  All tests were conducted under controlled clinical conditions.

Lion dung: 0/10
Anti cat spray: 0/10
Lemon peel (kindly suggested by the owners of the cats next door): 0/10.  Thanks for nothing.
Lavender (apparently a cat repellent): 0/10, goodness what I am doing wrong as I counted 11 lavender plants in the garden and it is only about 4 metres square.  (Can you have too much lavender?  A topic for another post I fear.)
Sonic cat repellent gadget:  this works really well so I give it 8/10.  The only thing is you have to be prepared to cash in  your life insurance policy to afford the new batteries it needs all the time but it is well worth it not to have animals going to the toilet in your veg patch.

Here's one of them about to launch an attack on my perennials:

Feigning disinterest

Caught in the act

The look of defiance

Apparently a water gun works well but I'd have to sit there all day like some sniper in downtown Sarajevo and people would think I was insane.  Also I'd have to give up my day job in order to watch the garden effectively but then I suppose I'd then have time to grow some seeds.

On a brighter note, this gladiolus callianthus came into flower this week.  I was a bit surprised as I thought all the bulbs had come up blind.  A massive sycamore and some squirrels are to blame (oh dear, I can feel all the new topics welling up inside of me!). It was supposed to be part of my late flowering scheme to avoid the August gap but as only one in fifteen or twenty of them planted have flowered I guess I won't repeat them next year.  Famous last words!

Gladiolus callianthus

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Knautia Macedonia and rambling on about the Olympics

Dry weather has meant there is a sudden lack of slugs in the garden.  The end of nightly hunts with the salt cellar has left me wondering what else there is to do.  What is the meaning of gardening without a couple of slugs to spear?  I've deadheaded a few flowers which lead me to wonder if I'm using the garden in order to express inner violent tendencies and would be locked up if it wasn't for repeat flowering perennials.  The Olympics have also distracted me from the garden. We live in spitting distance of the stadium (not that we could get tickets for anything *bitter!*).  Sour grapes have faded to smugness as team GB are now firmly ahead of Le Photographe's country in the medals table.

Anyway, I've digressed as this is a blog about gardening and not a commentary on the state of British athletics.  Although gardening is relevant to the Olympics as apparently Sarah Price's planting in the Olympic Park is well worth a visit.  I'll definitely go and have a look at the gardens but you need tickets for the Park to see them (did I mention I didn't get tickets?) so it will have to wait until after the games.  I just hope that Ms Price knows what she is doing when it comes to late season planting.

I digressed again!  Sorry.  I'm going to be good now and write about gardening.  Plant of the moment is Knautia Macedonia.  I love this plant and always wait eagerly for it's first flowering.  I planted three of them two years ago, recklessly placing them in the eastern bed when the label said full sun.  As punishment for not listening, I lost two of them in the first winter but one of them has soldiered on.  Having a north facing garden has meant that I never know if it will re sprout until June when I give thanks to the miracle of nature and start smothering it with liquid feed and cutting back anything else that might impede it's progress.  Once up and running it ticks a few style boxes for a small garden: repeat flowering, reasonably slug resistant and adds a bit of height to the border.  I first discovered it in the pages of Garden's Illustrated which also must elevate my garden a bit in the prestige stakes.

There have however been two disappointments about this plant: a tendency to powdery mildew and poor results when it comes to seeds.  Powdery mildew is easily dealt with by a dash of non organic, non biodegradable, eco unfriendly toxic chemical spray that I squirt shamelessly about the place.  Seeds however are a bit of a mystery.  Instead of drying off to a nice tufted seed head the flowers sort of just mould away to nothing in autumn.  To be honest, I am not brilliant with seeds.  Come spring, I'll think, 'Great, let's plant some seeds!'  I'll congratulate myself when they sprout but seedlings are like toddlers: take your eye off them for a second and they misbehave by growing white mould, outgrowing their pots or cavorting with weeds.  Seeds need constant attention and are not for a slap-dash gardener like me, in fact I don't think they are suitable for anyone with a day job.

Good writing should flow and be succint but if you've got this far you'll know that I'm guilty on two counts of jumping from topic to topic and going on about a lot of random stuff so thanks for coping if you're reading this.  My last word for today is that if anyone has an Olympic ticket they don't want then I am your most willing recipient.  I especially like athletics.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

First time a winner

Apparently I have just won a £50 voucher for Creative Garden Ideas thanks to Ryan of Ryans Garden.  Thank you Ryan! 

This blog is getting little attention due to my becoming an armchair sports commentator during this 2 weeks of Olympic fever but I hope to find some slugs to complain about soon.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Something compelled me to come on here after yesterday's post just to point out that there is irony in this blog.  I am worried about international readers and would like to explain that this is British humour and it is not harmful.

I would also like to say for the benefit of Garden's Illustrated and their team of lawyers that the magazine will not be visiting my garden.  I'm sure Garden's Illustrated visit many gardens in Clapton but mine won't be one of them.  I promise to keep buying the magazine, as I have done faithfully for the last year and keep drooling over beds of rare herbaceous perennials framed by the walls of Cotswold manor houses, an outdoor Utopia I can only dream of.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Garden's Illustrated are coming

Hours spent gardening this week: 0.  Way too hot in England for gardening anymore.
Hours spent watering: 1 hour daily.  Recklessly watering pots in the evening, a sure fire way to attract slugs.
Slugs crisping gently on the terrace in the heat: 5.

July is a pretty good time for the garden, probably at it's best with all this hot weather that came overnight, so I’m expecting Garden’s Illustrated round at any moment.  In preparation for this, I’ve decided to help the journalist along by writing the opening paragraph for them.  It goes something like this:

“An urban paradise, designed and managed by its owner, Claire, who fled the leafy lanes of London’s Stoke Newington in search of the harder landscaping of Upper Clapton where dub ‘n’ bass throb from every neighbour’s window.  Filled with common plants found in most garden centres, splashes of red from poppies and pelargoniums mirror blood spills from the gang warfare outside on London’s notorious ‘murder mile’. From a bare alley favoured by slugs, the eye is lead effortlessly beyond to a patio and then a raised gravelled area and finally a compost heap.  Here and there a skilfully placed object catches the eye: some random bottles, an old trowel, a handful of bamboo canes discarded by the owner.   

“The place was converted from an old hostel for the homeless,” Claire says, ‘and when we saw it’s potential, we knew we had to have it.”  Claire has preserved the spirit of the hostel by keeping the original larch fencing which she has hand tinted her own mix of copper beech and burnt oak wood preserve.  The final result is brilliant orange; a colour the camera picks out perfectly in the twilight, a perfect vista for lying back and watching police helicopters overhead.”

Carefully placed objects d'art.

A scented arbour.  Note the orange fence.

Embracing shade.

The vegetable patch.  A horticultural emergency.

Le Photographe wishes to rescue this blog from it's sorry state of sarcasm with this cornflower.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


It was not until twilight that there was a gap in the rain.  The lavender fronds lay battered against the stones.   A pool of slugs congealed in the wet mingling with fallen petals from the rose, the air thick with the smell of moss.  Deadheading the few plants that had dared to flower in this monsoon of a summer, I saw the advance of weeds, the agapanthus that fail to bloom.  Above my head, a robin ventured out, singing from the top of the sycamore until the clouds gathered over again...

Hours spent gardening: 0.2
Slugs killed: 10.  Tiny newly hatched ones like little bits of black bootlace
Visits to garden centre: 0 
Rain is killing the will to garden.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Rained off play

It's bucketing down here as part of the meteorological schizophrenia we are experiencing here in the UK.  Already July and I have to suffer the shame of not having my Pelargoniums in flower.  I cannot look the neighbours in the eye.

Here are the scores on the board for the weekend so far:

Hours spent gardening: 3 between rain spells
Trips to garden centre: 1
Purchases: 1 terracotta pot to repot lavender.  Walked away from Lavandula 'Silver Anouk.'
Time spent procrastinating over Lavandula Anouk: 20 minutes circling it, smelling it, texting Le Photographe etc
Slugs and snails killed: huge daily cull.  New method and satisfying method: snip slug in half with secateurs.

A slug paradise.  Note the copper tape defence lines.  Slugs vs gardener: deuce.

Earlier in the week I spotted this slug crawling into a glass of wine.  Beer traps used to be the thing but now slugs are moving upwards in their tastes.  Our road is supposed to be undergoing gentrification so presumably the slugs are catching the fever for social mobility in our borough.

I can finally update on the wine box planter.  Results are below but it's been reasonably successful if you like bright blue.

One of my own photos.  Le Photographe made me write this.
I achieved the effect by sanding the box back and then using a cloth to apply two coats of paint mixed with white spirit.   I then sanded again between each coat before applying varnish.  Another round of sanding ensued after Le Photographe insisted it was not distressed enough for his liking.

The total cost of the project was free as I already had everything at home.  As I type this, I am now sorry for sharing this as it occurs to me how difficult it will be for most people to get hold of the wine box.  One way would be to buy a case of good wine but unless you had already planned to buy 12 bottles of St Emilion Grand Cru 1996 or 1998 (good years according to Le Photographe) then I guess it won't be a saving.

The seedlings in the box are Cosmos, diligently spaced out according to the instructions on the packet.  The pink scabious originally earmarked for the planter have been transferred to the beds.  Le Photographe took great pains to point out the beds at Hampton Court this week where Cosmos are packed close together like sardines, the implication here being that I don't know what I'm doing.  Any advice on how close to plant Cosmos would be greatfully and gracefully received.

Let me leave you with one of the few flowers that have thrived in this season of sunless and permanent damp: Geranium Phaeum.  It also seems to be a matter of disinterest for the local mollusc population.

It's a good afternoon for tennis and for watching slugs coasting across the patio in the wet.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

My name is Claire and I am a plantaholic.

Visits to gardening shows this week: 1 (Hampton Court)
Plants purchased: 8
Slugs and snails killed: averaging about 10 a day
Private garden visits: 6 (local gardening club)
Gardening magazines purchased: 1 (The English Garden)

Garden-wise, it's been manic.  Hampton Court was wonderful.  I could not help myself buy plants in the Floral Marquee.  It was the opening night and the 'plant creche' wasn't open so like a complete show novice I ended up carting around a couple of Melica Nutans grasses and a clematis all evening.  Anyone that has ever travelled with a clematis will know that they don't take well to being dragged around a show ground all evening while it's new owner keeps apologizing to everyone that gets caught up in it's tendrils or else tutting at people that knocked it.  I'm happy to report that it survived with just one strand  bruised beyond repair.  I'm sure an expert will be along to tell me that a clematis doesn't have a strand but they are branches or have a special Latin name but you know what I mean.  I lost a few seedheads from the Melica Nutans as well.  It was all a very delicate operation.

Le Photographe struggled with the artificial lighting in the Floral Marquee but here's the species of clematis on the left that I bought thanks to Floyds Climbers.  The man on the stand (presumably Floyd but I didn't ask him) had some helpful advice about clematis care: they don't like wet feet so let them dry out and give them a liquid tomato feed every other week.  This is the diametric opposite to what I have been doing (a zealous over-waterer if ever there was one). I am now on a strict programme of reform.  One good thing about Monday evening was that there was more opportunity than usual to interact with the plant growers as well as the plants.  Thanks Floyd, for your many clematis (or clematii??) and your wisdom.

Here's another one from Floyd.  Please don't comment on the shadow at the bottom as  you will upset the photographer.

It rained a lot so we all had to be resilient to enjoy our picnics.

I also had a very exciting encounter with Michael from Slug Bell.  Michael invented the slug bell after he found himself crunching a slug pellet along with his home grown salad.  The slug bell consists of a tiny mesh on a poll which hold the slug pellets.  This is semi covered by a decorative bell which concentrates the odour of the pellets in order to attract more slugs.  The bell gives a double advantage in that it prevents birds and other wildlife from eating the poisonous pellets.  I didn't buy one to test out as I already had my hands full but I will definitely be looking into it. 

Who can blame Michael for embarking on this venture?  Surely eating a slug pellet must be a low point in a gardener's life.  Needless to say, Michael and I quickly struck up a rapport.

Back home in the garden, it's becoming crammed with all these plants, a kind of horticultural traffic jam.  The high hopes I had in the style stakes for Dianthus Alpine have been dashed.  What I thought was a chic little brown and white Chanel of a plant has turned a sort of diluted pink reminiscent of Carnation Milk mixed in with bits of strawberry jerry.  If anyone is reading this who lives in Hackney and would like it, you are welcome to it as I have plants jostling to take it's place.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Slugshead revisited

Visits to garden centre: 1 (unscheduled)
Plants purchased: 0.  (Resolve of steel)
Hours spent gardening: 1
Slugs and snails killed: 10
Garden magazines purchased: Gardener's World (ex subscriber)

 I woke up this morning to find that this slug was coasting right across my terrace in the open.

 Audacious or what?

He was killed under tragic circumstances, his body burst by the force of osmosis from a hail of salt.  May we not remember him; nor shall we mourn his passing.

Advantage: Gardener.

I forgot to share any details of the plants I bought on Monday, so  here is Alpine Dianthus 'Brilliant Star.' (Le Photographe is on kitchen duty again I'm afraid).

Style notes: mini strap foliage contrasts with flowers in chocolate and brown akin to a monochrome effect.  A crisp, clean look for a plant that means business.  Commands respect whilst maintaining femininity with scalloped edged petals.

The other plant was was a curry plant.  I was seduced by the pungent, velvety foliage. It smells more like the spices that stain the fingers of the cook and linger long after the curry has been eaten.

I think this plant will be slug resistant.  According to Gardener's World, slugs like beer but not lager.  As you need curry to go with lager then I don't think they'll like this plant.  I had been putting lager in my slug traps instead of beer, so now I know why they don't work. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

My Garden

Weather: warm and sunny.  Tabloids now threaten terrible heatwave will engulf Wimbledon
Slugs and snails culled: 4
Methods: salt, speared
Advantage slugs: holes in hosta Frances Williams and Pelargoniums
Visits to garden centre: 1
Garden magazines: 1 (RHS The Garden, subscriber)

My apologies, I forgot to introduce you to the topic of this blog, the garden.  It's a small courtyard, with a patio that steps up to a raised gravel courtyard surrounded by beds.  There is also a bed hidden at the back which is trying and failing to be a veg patch.  The garden is north facing and overshadowed by next door's sycamore (another Enemy). This season I'm thinking height and trying to get some foliage to cover those fences which are stained 'natural beech' which came out like horticulture's answer to fake tan.

I tried several times to take this photo but the garden is at an awkward angle to photograph.  (Note to Homes and Gardens: bring some special camera lenses when you come).  Also Le Francais is Le Photographe and he was on kitchen duty today.   

I went to Homebase on the way home, allegedly just to buy the varnish for the planter project.  Just to make sure, I repeated "IwillnotbuyplantsIwillnotbuyplantsIwillnotbuyplants" on the way in.  This worked pretty well.  I only bought two plants. 

Needlesss to say I didn't think much of these garden ornaments.