Finding motivation

Hellebores in the sunshine.

I have been struggling to get motivated in the garden this year, it’s not been the weather, although the last few days with two storms have been pretty grim. In January we had quite a bit of sunshine and some nice crisp days with lots of beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Sunset

I have been busy being creative for my customers with new borders and new vistas but my garden hasn’t changed and I have only ordered my seeds for the allotment today. Unfortunately my polytunnel blew over in storm Eunice so I don’t have anywhere to sow them yet, but it’s a start.

New vista so you can see across the two borders from the top of the steps, I’ll come back to this another time.
Before
I have cleared this bed to create a herb garden near the kitchen door.

I despair when I look at my own patch, there is so much to do, but today I sowed some vegetable seeds in a customer’s, only slightly broken, greenhouse and did a bit more to the allotment.

Strawberry runners growing in the gravel.

I have decided to dig up my strawberry bed because strawberry plants don’t really have a very long productive life and they are really diseased as you can see. They came up more easily than I had expected as it turns out they are also suffering with vine weevil grubs eating the roots. I will replace with some new stock somewhere else, probably not as many.

Compost heap
Lines of compost, dug soil and old strawberry plants.

One of my many jobs to do is make compost bins but meanwhile I am combining digging over and turning the compost pile and topping up the raised bed with the good stuff.

There was even a bit of sunshine today!

After Christmas

I had the before Christmas rush around. Made a wreath from hazel twigs cut from the garden, spare bits of foliage cut off the Christmas tree and ivy from a neighbour who was tidying his hedge up. Tied together with Nutscene string so that I can just compost it when I’m finished with it.

We went on a 2 night visit to Wales to see my daughter’s friend, it’s a long way from Suffolk! Managed to have a visit to the sea at Southerndown Beach and visit the walled garden at Dunraven Castle.

Also made my first ever trip to IKEA, in Cardiff, so appalled by the hundreds of plastic plants that I didn’t take a photo!

I received a few gardening related gifts for Christmas. Can’t wait to read ‘Thoughtful Gardening’ by Robin Lane Fox, gardening gloves are always useful and I bought the flask myself so that I can take soup to work on chilly days.

Although I have already had a week off, eek, today, Monday, was the first day that I didn’t have to get up for something. Usually at this point I would spend some time in my own garden and although I looked around, and found some wasabi mustard that I had forgotten about in the polytunnel, it has been relentlessly wet and grey and not really gardening weather even for me.

Wasabi mustard from Sarah Raven seeds.

Another couple of days on and guess what, it is still grey and raining/drizzling. I still haven’t done any gardening but I have been browsing the seed catalogues and sorting out my random home saved seeds.

So while it remains uninviting, we can enjoy the thinking and planning ahead. I am looking forward to the first snowdrops appearing and already excited by the buds forming on the hellebores. And trying to catch up on blog posts of course.

Leaves

It has been beautifuly warm this week with a little bit of sunshine here and there. Perfect weather to show off the peak of autumn colour just before a big temperature drop and proper winter sets in. In essence, this time of year is all about the leaves.

There are the ones on the trees, red maples, like this one in one of my gardens, and bright yellow field maple and hazel dotted along the country lanes as I travel around to work.

Cotinus

This Cotinus, probably Cotinus coggyria Royal Purple, looked stunning backlit by the morning sun, was in another customer’s garden.

They look amazing on the trees, but then they fall. When they first come down, leaves can look pretty good on the ground too but they are not great for lawns, where they block out the light to the grass and they are not so welcome on paths and driveways where they become a sticky, slippy mess and get trampled into the house.

Beech

Luckily I only have one garden where I rake leaves, the others have someone else with the proper equipment or they deal with them themselves. I don’t mind leaf raking, it’s good exercise and it keeps me warm.

The start of the raking
More leaves!

This is a pretty traditional garden for an old lady and I suspect the system has been in place for a long time. The leaves get raked up and narrowed to the leaf pile in the corner.

Leaf pile

A few weeks ago I forked last year’s pile over the wall at the back into the bay behind

One year old leaves, with a few new ones from the beech above.

The pile that was here, so two years old, has mostly been spread on the garden borders but there’s a little bit left and it looks like this.

It’s a bit lumpy because of the conker shells, all the conkers have to be picked out because they tend to grow.

When I look up and all the leaves are gone, it’s a good moment because the leaf raking has taken place over several visits but now it is done for the year and time to leave the leaf pile to work it’s magic.

And this is where I walked!

Pub Kitchen Garden – Re-opening

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As we all know, it has been an unusual and difficult year all round but especially for the hospitality industry. The Queen at Brandeston, where I manage the garden has met each new challenge full on, opening a local shop and serving food and drinks as takeaway, then sitting outside and inside, as permitted, at different times.

Last week I was there on Easter bank holiday, trying to catch up with jobs in the vegetable garden to make sure I was ready for the growing season ahead.

Usually the pub would be busy, but this year it was just me and Mr Blackbird feeling the chill of snow showers.

You can just about see the snowflakes!

I was weeding the final beds to be done and he was following me, filling his beak with worms. He must have a family in the hedge.

Every year I hope to keep on top of the weeds with a little bit of regular hoeing but once I spend more time planting, watering and sowing seeds, the weeds take overk. So I will just take this moment to enjoy the vegetable patch being under control before it all goes crazy again.

There are already some things coming on. I have winter lettuces and chard under green mesh, which seemed to have survived the recent late frosts.

Chard foreground, lettuces behind.

There are some tiny radish seedlings and peas planted out, having been started off in the the greenhouse in early spring.

Peas

The wild garlic, which I planted a few years ago, is looking well and finally spreading. I just have a bit of a problem in that bed with tiny field maple seedlings.

Wild garlic surrounding my new pinkcurrant bush.

There is lots of self seeded coriander in the herb garden and the chives are romping away as always. The only bed not sorted out yet is the flower patch.

Coriander
The flower patch – still to be sorted.

A week on and the flower patch is still waiting to be brought to order but I have planted 14 kg of pink fir apple seed potatoes to be used in the pub kitchen. A main crop variety, they should be ready, once they have flowered, late summer.

With the tables and outside space restored and and the glamping facilities re-vamped and improved, The Queen is ready to welcome people to sit outside to eat and drink and stay. Visit the website here for opening hours.

The tulips are flowering with perfect timing now customers are allowed to sit in the garden again.

A bit of sunshine makes all the difference.

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I’ve been enjoying the sunshine today, with temperatures up to 19°C it seems to have gone from winter to summer over the weekend.

Peas

I’ve been looking for wow moments, well I did used to work in early years. These are the moments of the year that I really get excited about, peas ready to go outside is one of them.

Sunflowers, cut flower mixed.

The first destruction of seedlings by slugs is not!

Cumin though, last week, nothing, I thought that I’d sown them too early. This week seedlings!

Crown imperials

Ah, the crown imperials, always a key, and therefore wow moment for me. They appear with big buds bursting through the soil in early spring and today they were in flower. There are quite a few in this garden so they make a good display.

One of the main highlights at the moment is all the prunus blossom out in gardens, streets and hedgerows, it looked good last week but the sunshine and blue skies made it look amazing today and humming with bees too.

The other notable new flowers out are the daffodils, en masse in the orchard and by the swimming pond.

Other notable mentions looking good today, the anemones and Brunnera but prize for most spectacular, today, goes to the frothy blossom.

Brunnera maculata

Small changes.

It is mid March, and there is an abundance of primroses and violets. They do make a good combination and good to see because, with the exception of a few days, it’s still cold and blossom is late this year.

A rare sunny lunch break.
1st chilli seedling

When I couldn’t resist the urge any longer, I sowed some chilli seeds in a homemade propagator on the windowsill. All 3 have germinated now. The peppers didn’t do anything so I have tried some aubergines instead.

This is my corn salad and rocket, overwintered in the polytunnel, the pots had some good roots so I have planted them, still in clumps, into the ground within a cold frame.

As there was no frost forecast, lettuces and other salad, under cover and a few broad beans have been planted at the pub.

With a bit of space created, I have been able to sow the spring onions, beetroot and various brassicas. Germination has happened albeit slowly.

This is the beginning of the seed sowing for the pub, in early March. There are a few more now.
Daffodils are beginning to come out and the blossom is nearly there!

I’ve held back on my successional sowing while I wait for it to warm up a bit, I may have mentioned it’s been cold! My village seed swap has gone well, I have sent out about 40 packets of seeds and I’m very proud of the sustainability of all those seeds being put to good use.

Last weeks weather included blue sky, strong winds and rain and the curious Cumulus mammatus cloud.

Cumulus mammatus clouds.

So at the moment, work is picking up and I’m feeling in control of the gardens. It won’t be long before everything starts growing fast, including weeds, and seeds and seedlings will need a lot more care. That’s is when start panicking that I don’t have enough hours in the day. I’m looking forward to it really!

It has taken me so long to write this that at the beginning of another week I have returned to work to find that the cherry plum blossom has finally burst open and the hellebores are getting better and better.

It’s getting lighter – end Feb 21

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That’s what we are all saying at the moment! The days are really drawing out, I was outside until past 5.00 at the weekend, and sunset is after 17.20.

Berberis in the supermarket carpark, while I was queuing to get in.

Since the last post, we have had the predicted cold snap. Lots of snow, drifts, icicles, bitterly cold wind and near or below freezing temperatures for a week. We were snowed in for a couple of days and I couldn’t work for the whole week. Really it was nothing compared to countries that have proper cold winter with snow for much longer but I did get fed up with being cold.

Snowy pictures.

And then just like that, it got warmer and melted, leaving everywhere wet again. But things are looking up, I got given some garlic bulbs that hadn’t sold so I have planted some in pots to use as leaves, some in the garden and some at the pub garden. They are not proper treated bulbs for planting but it’s worth a try.

And my seed potatoes arrived from Pennards Plants . I usually go to my local potato day and have great fun choosing lots of different varieties but it isn’t on this year. Pennards do have a good selection, it just doesn’t have the same buzz as a gathering of lots of people all interested in buying and selling potatoes and other horticultural supplies.

I always grow Charlotte as that’s my name, there are some more underneath, some are for the pub.

I won’t be planting them until at least April so I will have to keep them cool, I don’t do chitting but they may sprout a bit anyway by then.

Then this weekend, it got a lot warmer, up to 13°C. It felt properly spring like although we mustn’t get too excited, there are probably many more cold and grey days to come. Nevertheless I went grocery shopping and came back with dahlia corms, something else which will have to wait, and peonies in those boxes which are usually full of shrivelled up plants. This time I got lucky, bits of peony roots just starting to grow which I have potted up and put in the polytunnel. No pictures but I might go and get some more while they are still in good condition.

Seed swap ready to go.

The other thing I have been doing, with the new season in mind, is creating a village seed swap. We are only a small village so it has been easy enough to gather the seeds, make a list, sent out on the village email, and now I am starting to distribute seeds to people that want them. I am charging a small amount, 20p -50p per packet in aid of the woodland see the blog here, if there are no swaps, but it is really to promote sustainability rather than make money. Next year a proper event hopefully.

The salad in the polytunnel survived the snow and I have had the first picking of mustard wasabi leaves.

The broad beans went back inside for the cold snap and are mostly ok.
The overwintering peas have been a failure, this was even before the cold.

The flower seeds have also mostly grown well and I have started pricking out Ammi. I have rather a lot.

The hellebores have popped back up
Always an exciting moment, the re-appearance of the crown imperials. There was no sign of them last week.

It has been so nice to have some warmer weather, just to have a few less layers on and get the washing on the line. There will be a few more frosty nights to look out for but there is hope for summer and getting out and about again

It’s February, where is spring?

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Snowdrops in the rain

I said that I wasn’t going to take so many snowdrop pictures this year, as I have loads I from previous years, but the drifts are just reaching their peak and I can’t resist. The flowers are opening out now but the cold and wet weather mean that they are lasting well.

Mahonia in flower now.

Well, here we are in February and, apart from a few sunny days, it has still been mostly cold and wet. I am not able to work in some of my gardens due to the waterlogged ground, I am really hoping to get going again this month.

These are borders in two different gardens.

As I write this, I have enjoyed a couple of days of mild weather, with hints of spring, but we are forecast another “beast from the east” bringing snow and freezing conditions; so I have rescued a couple of plants from the floods and fleeced the seedlings in my polytunnel.

Old fruit cage
New fruit cage

On a more positive note, ‘my’ fruit cage is very nearly finished and the new fruit arrived and planted. I ordered it from James McIntyre and Sons and it arrived quickly. I have gooseberries and blackcurrants, saved from the old fruit cage, and a new selection of raspberries, strawberries and a redcurrant. It’s not really my fruit cage but the customer and Trev, who built it, both refer to it as “your” and I’m in charge!!

As well as the snowdrops, the hellebores are also putting on a good show and shoots of the peonies are beginning to show.


Peony shoots.

I have got on well with the muck spreading at the pub with a bit of help from my son. I have also added to the fruit bushes there with red, white and pink currants and an Aronia. The loganberry from the old fruit cage has also been relocated here where there is more space for it to grow.

In other news, I have enrolled on a distance learning garden design course. I have so far enjoyed the buying of materials and setting myself up with some office space but I am finding the measuring and drawing difficult, which is what I expected. I am looking forward to getting to the plant bit and I will update as I go along.

Meanwhile, here’s some more pictures of a Daphne humming with bees on a warm day and more glistening snowdrops.

Daphne, the scent is amazing!

Still January – 2021

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This picture of of my vegetable garden planning was shown on BBC Look East!

It seems to have been a long month, we’ve had lots of rain, snow, fog and more recently, Storm Christoph. I have had a few more days off since the last blog post, due to the weather rather than the pandemic. Today was a beautiful sunny day but I was at home because Friday’s garden is still flooded.

Snow in the back field a week ago.

Since the last post I have been rose pruning and general tidying of the borders, trying to make the best of the emerging spring flowers.

Weeded and compost added, ready for spring.

I have also started spreading a nice thick layer of muck on my vegetable beds at the pub.

Ready for the vegetable beds.
The rectangular planter has a good crop of wasabi mustard, not thinned, the round pots are my newly transplanted salad leaves.
Salad leaves in the polytunnel.

In the polytunnel, I have transplanted my salad leaves, sown in the autumn. Winter lettuce, corn salad, rocket and beetroot, for the red leaves. Not ideal when it is going to be frosty but they were getting too big and starting to rot off.

The snowdrops came out!

At home today so no excuse for not getting on with my own garden. Always first is to clean out the animals. I can’t let the chickens out of their run at the moment so they like to get in on the action.

As soon as I take the side off to clean out the hen house they are in to have a look.

Beautiful blues skies and I found ladybirds on the yucca as I was cutting off the dead flowers.

I have made a start on my, rather neglected, front garden.

Mr Robin at the top of a tall conifer, singing to the moon.

Back at work- January 2020

My first week back at work after the Christmas break and it’s been hard.

There have been a few highlights, finding the aconites and first snowdrops and hellebores.

But it has been relentlessly cold, I know it is January, and sometimes wet.

Braving the rain in my 4 hats!

I had 1 day off because the ground was too sodden and a brief glimmer of sun on Thursday afternoon

More Hellebores in the sunshine

I’ve had quite a few chats with resident robins and discovered, through an online thread, that it is common practice for us horticulturists to chat with birds, snails, plants in fact, most living things and sometimes stones too. Very relieved that it isn’t just me!

So to Friday, minus 2°C as I drove to work and only reaching 0° all day, and foggy too. This garden was more flooded than I had expected and I knew that it would be quite damp.

Over full pond and flooded lawn
Flooded flower bed

I managed to find enough to do out of the water but it was really, really cold and I hope it goes down soon. The weather forecast isn’t great for next week!

Keep looking for those signs of spring.

I almost forgot, I harvested the first flower sprouts this week.