Garden diary: late April


How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean

Are thy returns! Ev’n as the flowers in spring;

To which, besides their own demean,

The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.

Grief melts away

Like snow in May,

As if there were no such cold thing.

(George Herbert, ‘The Flower’)

The garden at this time of year is pretty much full throttle – there’s the big planting programme to get through, and of course the vegetables and flowers aren’t the only things getting busy – the weeds are awake and active, and so are the pests. This weekend has been all about the garden, and between glorious sunshine & the children’s desire to get involved, it’s been a wonderful experience. However, taking the truism ‘a gardener’s work is never done’ to heart, we only managed to get halfway round the garden. I’m hoping that next weekend the weather will hold so we can get around the other half, and who knows – maybe even the front garden will get weeded, too.


Come with me on a tour …..

In number 1 bed, called ‘The Boat’ because of its shape, closest to the back door & nestled between a curved block-paved path from the patio around the outside of the garden and the lawn, brassicas are succeeding legumes in the crop rotation. In the centre is an ornamental cherry (inherited the vile thing), and I have permanent sage and rosemary shrubs – our favourite herbs need to be close on hand. The sage isn’t looking very well – the leaves have all died on the central stems, although there is a lot of new growth at the base, and on the outer stems.  I’m not sure what that’s all about, but a little concerned as a Rosemary died there before – I did think I’d cleared out any possibly contaminated soil, but now I’m wondering. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it’ll be alright, but it seeded last year, so I’ve got plenty of little sage seedlings in the worst case. I need to find homes for them – can’t bear throwing out healthy plants! The early peas aren’t doing as well as I’d hoped, but considering they came from saved seed, this batch of Feltham Firsts looks wonderfully healthy, even if the germination didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I’ve consolidated them into a smaller run over half the two-metre-wide bed. The early-sown brassicas have been planted out now, and are thriving, and successional sowings of Cauliflower (All Year Round), Cabbage (Savoy, Hispi & Kalibos), Calabrese and Purple Sprouting Broccoli’s are coming up – a further succession of everything went in this week. I had Calendula and Fennel in there last year, and although I thought I’d collected all the seeds to transfer down into the ‘hot’ bed down by the shed, I’ve still got a little population starting. I’ve moved around a third of the Calendula, kept a third of them in place to be companions for the brassicas, and dug the rest of them in. The Fennel has all been moved down to the hot bed – experience tells me it doesn’t transplant terribly well, but I’ll give it a good try. In one section, I’ve got a catch-crop of salad leaves alongside the Caulis – those were left from last year’s final sowing to self-seed, and it looks like I’ll be able to get me first harvest out of there as early as next week, which is tremendously exciting. I’ve planted dividing rows of parsley and sweet marjoram – one between Hispi & Savoy, and one between Savoy and Calabrese. There be strawberries here, too … I’ve interplanted one side of the bed with Borage, so it’ll be interesting to see how these stack up in terms of beneficial companion. The earlies have all got flowers on now, and they’re all putting on wonderful amounts of growth.

Outside the gate, down the side of the house in what was formerly a wasteland, we’re beginning to see signs of life in the fragrant wildflower meadow – I’m hoping that this is actually the wildflowers germinating, and not weeds ;). The transplants in – hosta for the dark corner, sweet rocket, german chamomile, heather, aubretia and the baby philadelphus in its outsize pot – are all thriving (though we could do with a day or so of good rain showers). The strawberry plant I moved in as an experiment is looking ill – a little extra tlc needed the next few days, I think.

In the corner, between the fence by the back gate and the boundary fence, there’s a wedge-shaped bed like a slice of pizza. Onion family are succeeding Brassicas in this one … though my brassicas from last year are rather feeble. (My defence is that Bellaboo was too small to tolerate extended gardening sessions). This is a problem area – one of two where we’ve had to clear building rubble to get a viable bed – and I despair of ever properly clearing it of white-tile fragments. I think I’ve got them all cleared, and then it rains, and there’s another crop, though fewer each time. I think that until it’s turned a couple more years of crops (and had the associated soil improvings) it won’t be happy – this is it’s third rotation – it’s done legumes and then brassicas, now into onions because I just don’t dare put root crops in there yet. But there is good news, despite the bolted Savoys! We have heads forming on the Cauliflowes – the children were impressed by that, absolutely awestruck, which made my day, and the purple sprouting brocoli is sprouting purple florets. Hooray!!! The calabrese is still looking a bit dismal, though – hopefully it’ll make a late comeback and surprise us. In terms of new sowings, I’m finally getting Leeks (King Richard) germinating, though I thought I’d blown it for a while there. Likewise, the spring onions are coming up, if patchily, but I’m pleased nonetheless because they’re one of those crops I can *never* get to grow. The onion sets I put in – red and whites – are sprouting prolifically despite Bellaboo’s repeated invasions and trampling, and I’ve put catch-crops of salad leaves in between one row and coriander in another. I adore coriander … I always have it growing inside in pots, but just think the outdoor-grown is so much tastier! The beetroots – another companion planting experiment – are coming on nicely inbetween the bolted Savoys and the just-coming-good Spring Heros. What’s surprised me most, though, is that I had some French Marigolds in last year as companions, and these have seeded and are coming up again this year! Wooot! (So are the nasturtiums, but you can’t keep a nasturtium down, I find).

Further down the boundary is a double strip of a couple of metres, either side of the path – this is Honey’s garden and is sown along traditional pretty cottage garden lines – she’s got an antique lavender and a wigelia (covered in buds, hooray!) and some hebe in there, and aubretia, dianthus, heather, thyme, campanula, geraniums and iris, and we’ve got lobelia, sweet william, cosmos and echinacea seedlings coming along for it, too – it’ll look glorious when it’s all planted & in flower. We had mystery bulbs coming up – neither Honey nor I could remember what we’d planted – with buds on, it’s clear they’re alliums. I am absolutely gobsmacked by the arrival of clematis in this part of the garden – uninvited & unplanted, it has popped up beneath the beech sapling (an invader from the woods beyond our boundary – more welcome than than the brambles & bindweed 😉 ) and is quit happily scrambling up the little tree. We’re wondering what colour it will be when – if – it flowers.

At the little paved patio at the end of Honey’s garden, about half-way down the boundary fence, the greengage I planted this year is putting on good growth and I’ll need to train the first cordon shoots very soon. Hopefully it’ll help make a feature of this little area – we don’t use it, and despite the pretty yellow tea-roses at each corner, it doesn’t get much notice. It’d be nice to change that …. though I’m not sure how, yet. With so many other areas under construction this year, I kind of want to wait to let everything bed in for a couple of seasons before I tackle anything as lare-scale as we’ve done this year.

Beyond Honey’s garden, and the tyre swing in the big oak – just outside our garden, but enough  banches overhang our garden that it might as well be in!! – is the ‘hot’ bed. It’s called the ‘hot’ bed because it gets full sun all day, but because it’s shaded by oak and palm trees, it’s desert-dry. At the moment, it’s got two massively overgrown Phormium’s in, and whilst I love the architectural qualities of the NZ Flax, two together is a bit overwhelming in that space (another inherited headache). This became (even more) apparent today after I gave them a good hard prune: the snow we had earlier this year damaged its leaves – they got bent & broken, & the broken parts are dying off – so they both looked very ill. Beneath them, the ground is dry and completely drained of nutrients, but there’s still a brave show of what looks like Crocosmia shoots trying to come up. I’m wondering if I should take a hedge trimmer to the Phormium every year to give the other stuff in the bed a chance. Ideally, I should take one of them out, but received wisdom is that nothing short of a mini-JCB-digger will get them out, & even then it’s a struggle to shift ’em, once they’ve got to the size ours are. I suppose the other option is to extend the bed so that I can get some ground-covers in, which might hold in moisture a bit better, but that’s a lot of work & will incur further protest on the ‘enclosures’ act already causing lawn-based controversy. Anyway, with the dead/dying growth lopped out, the bed looks much better, so I’m going to extend the planned rudbeckia, calendula, sunflower, fennel & nasturtium mix a bit further and see how we get on. I’ve worked in some compost – from our own heap & lovely crumbly black-stuff it is too, whoo-hooo – and given it a good water for now, and hopefully it will take some planting in a few weeks time, once everything’s ready to go in the ground.

The small plot between the hot bed and the shed, where I cleared junk & built the children a den, got sowed with chamomile & an assortment of old flower seeds hanging around from previous years – there’s signs of germination there, which is tremendously exciting, and the lilac shoots I planted to start a living hut with – like willow, but I’m hoping that I can do the same with lilac: imagine a live bower covered in blossom – how heavenly (fingers crossed I can pull it off, eh?) – have all taken, so progress!!! It’ll be a few years before the vision is realised, but it’s a start.

And that’s as far as we got! Next week, I’ve got to weed and sow successions of root-crops in the raised beds, and clear the shady garden beneath the wisteria of rubbish & other pests, and, of course, the regular grim task of digging out dandelions, but progress this year is fantastic, and the garden is really starting to come together …. still a long way to go to the fantasy potager I dream off, but a good few steps closer ….


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