Friday 31 March 2017

West Green House

Regular readers may remember that I quite often visit West Green House in nearby Hartley Wintney. It's one of those properties so full of interest that even though it is not enormous, there is always something different to see. Jane and I went there yesterday.

The most famous feature of the gardens is undoubtedly the Moongate, and my post today would be incomplete without a photo of it!

 The bridge to the islet in the lake is also very well known:

My favourite feature today was the water feature with the trees, each on its own little island.

The clumps of white Wood Anemones around the base of each tree were stunning in their simplicity.

The Magnolia trees are looking good at present too, and West Green has lots of them.

Fortunately for us, the weather was glorious, giving me this opportunity for a photo of a Magnolia branch against clear blue sky.

The Daffodil season is not far from over, and at West Green some of them have already been dead-headed, but some varieties were still looking very special:

 Underneath the trees there are still swathes of flowering bulbs. At present the white ones seem predominant.

In amongst the fading Daffodils are huge numbers of Snakeshead Fritillaries - probably the most I have ever seen in one place. Sensibly, the area where most of them are was closed off to prevent damage, so this photo is a clipped piece of a photo from a distant vantage-point.

The Tulips are not yet at their best, but the ones that are in bloom were certainly enjoying the sunshine yesterday though.

Some of the best bits of the garden are the least formal areas, many of which are currently awash with Celandines, Violets and Primroses.

Another favourite of mine is the Hellebore. In fact I think that seeing so many of them in the gardens at West Green is what inspired me to start growing them in my own garden. What do you think of this green one? It was a huge plant!

There are so many plants in the garden at West Green that it's obviously impossible for me to show them all here, so I'm not going to attempt that. I'll finish with a few more of my favourite photos from this visit:

Finally, what about this for the venue for a very special meal...?

It's inside one of their glasshouses!

Thursday 30 March 2017

Supporting Broad Beans

My first row of (12) Broad Bean plants has grown to about 30cm / 1ft tall now, and they looked in need of some support. One of the disadvantages of having my veg plot just outside my back door is that I can see my plants being buffeted by the wind! We have had quite a lot of strong wind recently, and I don't want to risk losing any of my precious beans. I have therefore given each one the support of a 1.5m / 5-foot bamboo cane.

"Why bother supporting Broad Beans?" you may ask. Well, the reason is that if you don't, the bean plants will soon flop over into an untidy sprawling mess that takes up a lot more ground-space than if they are held upright. More importantly, bees find it difficult to access the flowers on a sprawl, so they won't get pollinated and your crop will be smaller.

Over the years I have tried various different ways of support Broad Bean plants, using twiggy sticks, criss-crossed string, wire, etc, but the most effective way is this. I push a bamboo cane into the soil and then tie the plant to it loosely with soft string. As the plant grows I tie it to the cane in more places - usually about four in total.

Different varieties of Broad Bean grow to different heights and therefore need different lengths of cane. These beans are "Witkiem Manita", which supposedly get to about a metre tall, so allowing for the fact that each cane is pushed into the soil about 30cm, the 1.5m canes should be plenty tall enough.

I've mentioned before that I'm growing a row of Radishes alongside the Broad Beans, and you can see them clearly here:

My second batch of Broad Beans is just germinating now.

To be honest, I'm not sure what variety these ones are. I got them at the Potato Day I attended in January, and I recorded them just as "the brown ones"!  It doesn't really matter to me what variety they are, just as long as I manage to get a decent time interval between the two rows in order to spread out the harvest.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

End of March update

We have had a few days of fine, mostly sunny, weather with daytime temperatures in the mid-teens, and the plants in my garden have responded enthusiastically. So have I! I have been out sowing, planting, pruning, tidying-up etc. I thought an update-style post would be in order...

Daffodils are already giving way to Tulips. It's a shame they only last a couple of weeks, isn't it?

The Purple Sprouting Broccoli is still going strong. I have used two of my four plants now. The remaining ones are the two "Early Purple Sprouting" ones, one of which is certainly trying very hard to earn its place as an ornamental plant as well as an edible one.

My Onion sets are growing strongly now:

The spare ones in pots (which I am going to use in lieu of Spring Onions) are bursting into life as well:

The First Early potatoes (planted on 11 March) are appearing:

The first tentative shoots of Asparagus have poked through the soil this week too:

There's not much evidence of the sowing I have been doing, apart from a few re-located cloches, and a recently-deployed anti-cat net:

Beetroot sown under the one on the left; Radishes under the other

I have sown a short (1.2m) row of each of two types of Beetroot - "Cylindra" and "Boltardy". The former is a long thin (cylindrical!) type, whereas the latter is a more conventional round type.

The Parsnips I have sown this year are "Student" and "Hollow Crown". Since I have two fewer raised beds this year I can only afford to grow a few Parsnips, but I will be doing my best to make sure they're good ones. I sowed them well-spaced-out, and with two seeds per station to maximise my chances of getting good even spacing.

Seen through the net: sticks and labels mark where I have sown Parsnips

My chilli seedlings have had a couple of outings to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.

It's good to be able to get them outside, because I don't like to keep them under artificial light for too long. Besides, when kept indoors they seem to be exceptionally susceptible to aphid attack. The blessed creatures seem to appear from nowhere! When the plants are outside they are much less bothered by aphids, and predators soon reduce the number of them.

Many of the chilli seedlings are "racing away" and looking fine, like the ones seen in the next photo, but unfortunately I also have several that look weak and unenthusiastic for some reason. [This is why it is good to avoid "putting all your eggs in one basket", so to speak.]

I also have 6 types of chilli that have not germinated at all - or at least, not yet. I haven't totally given up on them because I know that it can sometimes take up to two months for a chilli seed to germinate, but I'm acutely aware that even if a seed were to germinate now it may be too late for it to grow into a plant big enough to produce ripe fruits this year. It might have to be reserved for over-Wintering. By the way, I have got rid of all the chilli plants that didn't make it thorough the Winter, and I have been left with five. That's approximately a 50% success rate. Not as good as I had hoped. Unusually, the plants that did best were the ones I had clipped least severely.

I sowed my Tomato seeds last Monday (20th March), in unheated propagators on a windowsill, and they almost all germinated on Friday. I have just one variety ("Cherokee Purple") that hasn't shown (yet). The seeds are ones I saved myself last Autumn using the fermentation technique about which I wrote. I hope I did it properly...!

I have done with the Tomatoes what I did with the chillis - sown 6 seeds of each type in a small pot, with a view to keeping a maximum of two plants of each type, even if all the seeds germinate. In most cases all six seeds germinated, but there have been a couple where only 3 have come through so far.

Saturday 25 March 2017

Radishes - a second sowing

The first row of Radishes which I sowed alongside my Broad Beans have come up now and are looking good, so it's time to think about the next lot.

I haven't bought any new Radish seeds this year, because I have lots left over from last year and before. I find that they keep very well and remain viable for at least 3 or 4 years.

Today's sowing is an exact copy of the previous one. Having prepared the ground (removing any large pieces of twig, and breaking-down any lumps of soil), I made a shallow drill by pushing the handle of my rake horizontally into the soil. Into this drill I placed the seeds individually, spacing them a couple of inches apart. With big seeds like Radishes, this is eminently possible when you are only sowing a short row like mine (2.4 metres), but would be a bit too laborious if you're working in larger scale! Then I gently watered the row using a watering-can with a fine rose and covered the seeds with a thin layer of dry soil.

The final part of the task was to mark the ends of the row with a couple of short sticks, and then cover it with the cloches. The cloches will warm the soil a bit, but they are there mainly to dissuade the local cats and foxes from digging up the seeds.

Radishes grow to maturity very quickly (approx. six to eight weeks is normal), so they are a good crop to get going now, when fresh veg is a bit scarce. They never get big either, so there is no chance of them blocking out the light to other crops that you will be sowing in the next few weeks.

I usually grow Radishes early in the season because I find that later on - say, after June - they tend to bolt very easily, especially if the weather is hot and dry. They like moist soil, so I'm always careful to water them frequently.

Another little tip: either sow the seeds well spaced-out right at the start, or thin them out very soon after germination, because if they are overcrowded they will never develop properly. They will go thin and leggy, without the swollen roots that you want. I find that a spacing of approximately 2 inches between plants is about right.

Radishes to the left of Broad Beans.

Friday 24 March 2017

More spuds planted!

Yesterday I judged that it was time to plant the rest of my potatoes. Having planted my First Earlies about a fortnight ago, the remaining ones were mostly Second Earlies, with a couple listed as possible Early Maincrops. I don't generally grow Maincrops, for two reasons: first, their late maturity time makes them vulnerable to blight; and second; their (bigger) size makes them less suitable for growing in the pots I have.

Having been kept indoors on the windowsill of an unheated spare bedroom for the last two months, the chits (shoots) on these potatoes were gratifyingly impressive:

The varieties I planted today were Charlotte (4), Nicola (2), Kestrel (2), Ratte (2), Orla (2) and International Kidney (2).

Following my usual technique, I planted them into the big black plastic pots, making a hole for them in the soil with my trowel and placing them rose-end (the end with most shoots) upwards, and then covered them over to a depth of about 3 inches. As the shoots grow, I will earth them up again with some more soil / compost.

Most of this batch went into my biggest pots - these 35-litre ones:

A few of the lucky ones went into the protection of the "Seedling Greenhouses". Hopefully the extra warmth will bring them on more quickly than the ones out in the open, so that I will have a nice steady succession of harvests.

Now all I have to do (apart from the earthing-up, which is a fairly quick, probably once-off, task), is water them occasionally and wait for them to mature...