Friday, 29 August 2014

In praise of August Sunshine

It's the end of the summer now; in fact the weather has just snapped its jaws, hard, and overnight the leaves on my apple tree turned yellow and the tomato plants started to fail. It's early, and some things (like the grape vine) will be lucky to make harvest at all. But as we start to shade into September rain, some plants have the right idea about what they should be doing. These below are a mix of the brave sunflower survivors of my slug-tattered garden and the bedding (dahlias, sunflower, prairie daisy) in my local park. And they're all yellow, like suns in the border.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Blossom end rot

My tomatoes this year have suffered, but not without cause. I've been experimenting to see how little I can provide for them and still get fruit. This has meant small pots instead of grow-bags, less pinching and trimming, less tying in and (sorry, plants) less food and water.

Part of pushing boundaries is finding where they are, and the physical evidence of that boundary is shown above - blossom end rot, caused when the plant runs out of water and nutrients before it can complete the fruit. Low fruit levels, some plant failure, yellowing and other signs of struggle are here and there too -- especially on the seven plants I put in small pots and on top of a wall in the shadiest corner of the garden (I had about thirty plants, all of fairly delicate heritage varieties).

But even they have fruited. Tomatoes are brutes. They can take bad treatment, and come back fruiting. And next year I'll know about tomatoes in pots in my garden:
  • Yes please on sun but not on wind -- it dries them too fast
  • You're going to need a bigger pot, and one plant in one pot. You can't underplant with anything. Sorry.
  • They will do better under glass, sorry.
  • Tie in early and feed and water regularly. 
Next year I may experiment with letting them out into the flower beds. The only plant I did that for this year with stripped and killed by slugs, but if I find the right place....

Friday, 22 August 2014

Other people's gardens: liminal planting

On the edge of parks and public spaces, gardens sometimes struggle to define their edges. Things comes drifting in (including people, sometimes) and the tendency to enclose or wall with high hedges of fences or trees and shrubs can be nigh-overwhelming. But then of course there tends to be rubbish accumulation on the boundary -- drinks bottles in hedges, graffiti on walls. The boundary, private to public, subject to tiny, constant incursion.

The approach here, where the park railings have been left to stand and the garden simply set to drainage-friendly gravel and blocks makes the same firm statement as a modern bus-stop; if you drop rubbish here, it will be obvious. Behave, act with respect,  because you are fully observed. Garden as panopticon.

But along the border, a softening frill of poppies and marigolds. A sudden smile in the tidiness, an effusion of bright colour saying; yes, tidy, but also yes - garden. See my flowers!

I have a terrible time with marigolds in my garden. Slugs strip them in days. And there's a practicality here, too - slugs aren't going to get out here. The marigolds will like the warm soil under the weedproof membrane. They'll both take care of their own planting. And above all there's the sense of pushing back - a tiny incursion of garden coming out into public space.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

There's no cat in the garden what am I going to do?

The last time my poor old cat came out into the garden took me completely by surprise. He had been sitting on the sofa, in the warm, somewhat sorry for himself, and I thought that was where he would stay that day. But there was a bit of golden sun in the sky and out he came, a bit tottery on his back legs, and walked round the pots, owning each one, until the garden was his again. Even just a few weeks ago, he would then have hopped up onto the cat shelf (a warm stone slab under the vine that catches the sun into the afternoon) for a nap, but not that day. He turned around and walked back into the house, stopping for a rest inside each door on the way.

He enjoyed the warm stone in the garden, but it was hard under his old feet by then. Mind you, he liked uncomfortable things. We gave him a heat pad, cushions, a lovely soft cat bed; he would always rather sleep on cold stone, piles of electrical cables, and preferably completely in the way of everything. The tank picture is from about seven years ago, but the rest are this spring. You can see he is old, but he hardly looks his age (twenty, a Methuselah among cats).

Last week, he looked his age. This week, he is gone. Next week, I shall clear a bit of soil at the front of the flower bed to plant teasels in next year, and a little of him will return and become part again of the garden.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Bitter pit, blossom end rot and the ideal size for your pot

This year for the first time I am growing tomatoes without grow-bags. Instead, I have used pots, in a variety of sizes (in addition to an experimental rig which involved burying potting-on pots in old recycling boxes full of spent compost). That one I'll come to in good time. But on the pots; how small can you go?

Well, go too small and you get Blossom End Rot - a mushy brown bottom on an unripened tomato. This is because the plant runs out of everything it needs too fast (especially water) and the fruit suffers. I've also got low fruit, though that might also be down to my greenhouse spider collection (I actually caught one wrapping up a honey bee last week - the little beast). 25cm seems to be the cut off point - my 30cm pots are OK.

The apple tree was also looking dicey during the dry spell - it does not have enough leaves, and the apples were starting to get that slightly pitted look that says not enough!!! of anything!!!! and precurses the dreaded bitter pit. But it also got some pests at the same time, which lead to some fairly radical thinning of fruit, and I gave it extra water, and some fertiliser, and I think it's going to be OK. But in the long term I would like a larger pot. For reference, the pot it's in is about a metre high and 60cm across. It was definitely the biggest pot in the garden centre. It's not enough. For if there is ever a truth for plants in pots it is this; the pot should be bigger.

I brought home a book from the library called "Success in Container Gardening" or somesuch. Some of the pictures (posed shots of mature plants moved into pots) actually had the plants already wilting. Yeahno, those plants were not grown in those bags.


 But it explained the mechanism of Blossom End Rot to me in brief and comprehensible terms and alerted me to the existence of a seriously weird-looking radish, so I'm happy.

I wonder if I can grow it in a container?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Free is still more than I'd pay (for a Rose of Sharon)

They were giving away free plants this spring at the garden centre, otherwise I would never have got the Rose of Sharon. As it was, I took a small plant home and dug it firmly into Pot 'o Doom, the most exposed of the modernist fibreglass planters. So far it has killed: a much-loved Olive Tree, a Magnolia Stellata, a rather pretty Fuschia and a Bottlebrush Plant. If you're counting (and I am counting) that is one plant a year, although those years have admittedly included a week at -10, severe summer floods, two droughts and a brutally cold spring.

A week after I dug it in, the combined might of slugs and good old competitive Rose of Sharon took out the Frittillaria that had (to my delight) resprouted from the previous year, and I thought, oh well, at least the main plant won't die. Nothing can kill a Rose of Sharon.

Turns out I was wrong about that. As the weather (and the pot) heated up, the Rose dropped off her flowers, turned brown and shed its leaves. I hypothesise that it was one of the large hedge types. Certainly the flowers were huge for the size of the plant. A self-seeded Candytuft briefly made a living in the side of the pot, and the weird unkillable monster that is my Green Trick Carnation is still dangling cheerfully over the side, and there is an alpine strawberry runner with two leaves left on it in the pot, but the Rose of Sharon, the plant that was free because no gardener would put it in their soil at any price, is about to give up the ghost.

I'm still not going to put it in my soil. The moment it hits rich midlands clay, damp with the river, warm with the sun, it will proliferate and murder anything in its shade. To the municipal composter it goes!

And as for Pot O' Doom, well, there's a Buddleija in a potting on pot waiting to be planted out. It can't kill that, surely?

Friday, 8 August 2014

Object of desire: Tulipa Acuminata

I've never seen it in flower. It's probably not in any sense practical. But I can't stop thinking about Tulipa Acuminata, a Turkish species tulip with long petals like tiny flames. It reminds me of this one time I bleached my hair over compound henna. I ended up with a graduated tint from blond at the roots to scarlet at the tips. Just like this flower. You'll have to take my word for it, as it was during a year I wasn't running a camera.

So I did what I always do under these circumstances, and put it on my Garden: ideas board, which acts as a sort of rag-bag of bits and bobs:

Follow Jeremy's board Garden: ideas on Pinterest.

Plants that have caught my idea, planting techniques, the endless Pinterest weekend projects, things that remind me of my garden, things I'd like to see in my garden, things which have the feel of the future, or the present, or the past of my garden. Some have come true already, some are on the to-do list, some will only ever always be in the maybes.

Not quite sure where Tulipa Acuminata sits yet. But look at it! What a flower. It's said that Turkish sultans had it bred it to look that way, because of their desire for tulips that looked like fire. An ancient ornamental so old it is species now. Is there sun enough for it here? I may never know.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The pests are coming

I just saw the first tomato looper fall as I watered in the greenhouse. They are here. I doubt they'll do more damage than the slugs and snails which are lacing the lower leaves on the tomatoes as I speak, no matter how many I pick off and put into the compost there are always more, waiting in the undergrowth. They smell the sweet green of new shoots and they are in and eating and chomping and bye bye plant, often enough.

Here's a new one in my garden this year. Rose Sawfly, which turned up on the ridiculously red rose which this year is putting on the leggy growth of an established climber. Its new growth is mostly the colour of red wine, flushed with toxins to keep the pests off. But an odd green shoot off some old wood caught these.

From the way they're sitting I think they must be mildly toxic, so I'm sure my sparrow gang didn't mind me cleaning them off into the compost (from which they did not return). The looper has gone the same way, but I doubt it will be a beast as easily banished.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Composting the St John's Wort Teabags

The tea cupboard was overflowing and I needed to to shed a few packets of the unused, unloved, unuseful teas. I found the Heath & Heather St John's Wort tea tucked at the back, bought when the health food shop was selling their last packets ever half price. Last ever because it's not a very safe item, St John's wort. Counterindicated if you're at elevated stroke risk, suffer from migraine, may interfere with hormonal contraception, etc. It's a proper herbal, by which I mean one where you have to tell your Doctor if you're taking it, and they will then tell you not to take it.

I briefly considered Freegling it, as there is sure to be someone locally who's happy to take the risk for the benefit (as I recall, a faint sense of warmth and restlessness, alongside endorphin release from the gag response to the disgusting flavour) but then I examined the packet and realised that the whole thing would compost and/or recycle. Problem solved, thanks to Heath & Heather's minimal packaging. It did all look very cheerful in the process, too.