With time on my hands and nowhere to go there was plenty of time to mess around in the garden. Messing can be a negative when I fiddle too much and forget the basics. On seedlings I pricked out and cosset the weaklings rather than aiming for strong likely good doers.
I give away many plants and unwanted ceramic pots by leaving them on the garden wall for passers by. Surprisingly, gardening books were not as popular and I still have hundreds which I will no longer read.(that may be a clue why they were unclaimed).
I had some dwarf Hostas in good flower and the whole collection went one evening. I was a bit miffed as I would have liked to give each one to a different gardener. Then when clearing up I found a nice note from the grateful recipient and keen Hosta admirer.
Covid Year Winners
Early successes were the cheerful colours of primulas in pots and the garden flower beds. I saved the large pots full of plants through summer and have just started splitting them to reinvigorate the stock. Some varieties are flowering again right now (September). Regrettably there has been an infestation of vine weevil and the compost/soil is contaminated. They do not seem to have eaten into the roots yet so I may have caught it in time but I am vary of the hatching and spread next year.
Serendipity struck when I decided last year to plant some patio roses in long tom pots and other terracotta plant pots. They have been the stand out summer flowers and have been in continious bloom right through. Deadheading, feeding and watering have contributed but I rate them top of the 2020 season.
An unsung success has been the conifers which have provided cover for numerous birds and a visual range of colour, form and shape. The variety is more noticeable as I have looked more carefully at plants from several years ago when I planted dwarf conifers of many varieties. Some larger plants were turfed out to make space or as they were just wrong for the garden.
It is a new gardening year resolution to give the conifers some tlc with fewer competitors and a more natural habitat. I have named the main zone the conifery. Growth on the larger specimens has been substantial and I will practice pruning and topiary on these outliers in the back garden.
Part of the Conifery
Dahlias deserve an honourable mention and I tried hard with geraniums, violas and sweetpeas which provided bunches of cut flowers and now I await the chrysanthemum display.
I liked the colour combination of this garden center penstemon and for less than £4 I thought it a bargain. The main reason it seemed a bargain, compared to others available for sale, was the lush growth from the base of the root. I have tried with stem cuttings with some success but usually achieved more failures. On this stock plant I could see I would be able to tease stems from the base by the root. I have got now 10 potential plants several with small roots already growing. With luck there are also two stock plants from halving the root ball, .
Reasons Why I Grow Penstemon
These semi evergreen plant have a long and colourful flowering season from summer until autumn
They are colourful perennials very popular with bees.
Penstemon are easy to grow and generally reliable.
They are easy to propagate from cuttings and benefit from keeping your garden stock quite young by regular replenishment.
My garden helps some wild life but I recognise eco-disasters are all my fault when I consider how I am contributing to environmental problems. I do try make adjustments to my consumption of resources but in reality it is a net failure.
Some of my 2020 ecological disasters
I use a lot of water with 2 outside taps, 2 very small ponds, 2 equally small water butts and lots and lots of hand watering.
Plant miles created by me have hitherto been quite excessive. I drive to garden centers on a regular basis buying plants that have probably been raise abroad in electrically enhanced hothouse conditions then driven 100’s of miles to market.Packaging will generally be in plastic pots or some similar wrapping
Most of the seeds I buy are in multicoloured packets and contents are progressively fewer in number.
This year there are no frogs visible in my main pond despite early frog spawn. Do adult frogs find it too hard to get out of the water from this plastic molded version that replaced a leaky cement home made version. Either that or the major temperature changes this year have had an effect.
Dare I admit I use peat!
It may be unfair to blame corvid for the weather which confused lots of plants with an early dry summer, sharp frosts, droughts and then torrents of rain. On balance flowering plants have held their own with my patio roses managing three good flushes so far!
Htdrangeas did less well and I allowed perennial sweet peas to grow through the shrubs for a bit of colour.
Delphiniums failed but first early potatoes did well
Walled gardens make great spaces for your special kitchen garden. Traditionally associated with larger estates, country houses and stately homes many were designed to provide a continual supply of fresh fruit, flowers and vegetables for the ‘big house’. It is the micro climate that walled gardens induce thus creating the facility to grow more exotic fruit trees against walls or with the aide of heated glasshouses.
There are many more discrete kitchen gardens where you can model your own food producing plot with ideas in this National Trust book. Even one well situated wall can provide shelter climbing space and support within a kitchen garden.
I know I can use all sorts of materials as a mulch but I like the organic versions. Here I have piled it high well before it is ready as a mulch much less a compost
To help me with another problem, that of too much compost, I am going to try combining the two issues to solve both problems and use partially rotted compost as mulch. I have 3 large compost bins and a wheely bin for large wooden items but due to 2020 output this capacity has been far too little. Thankfully I can now book a slot at the council waste refuse site to take my tree stumps and larger items.
Mulch v Compost Issues
I need to be wary of seed infestations as the mulch has not had time to generate enough heat to kill off annual weeds.
I also hope to benefit from disturbing rats because they seem to have taken a liking to my compost that often generally kitchen waste.
It my be just my feelings but I like organic much to be damp and able to hold moisture. This means mulchable compost is good for the soil & (soul).
The best place for rabbits, if it is not in a pie, is in the wild meadows and byways of the countryside. There they can do as their mum tells them and ‘eat up their greens’. As a vegetarian this is what rabbits do and that is why gardeners start to worry about them eating cultivated greens.
Peter Rabbit sneaks into Mr. McGregor’s garden to eat as many vegetables as he can before Mr. McGregor tries to catch him. Peter manages to escape as other rabbits do in my garden.
Then there is the image of Bugs Bunny eating a never-ending carrot. What a way to encourage kids to become gardeners.
Tar-Baby is about a doll made of tar and turpentine used by Br’er Fox to trap Br’er Rabbit. The more that Br’er Rabbit fights the Tar-Baby the more entangled he becomes:- a modern metaphor? This is not a recommended control method for gardeners.
White Rabbit is a character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland wearing a waistcoat like many gardeners from that era.
Roger Rabbit and Jessica bred a film franchise as quickly as rabbits seem to do when feeding on lettuce.
2020 has been a year of walking and observing nature in the raw. As autumn approaches the mushrooms and toadstools or fungi will be out in force. This will provide you with new observation opportunities on your nature walks. This week I spotted this gigantic fungi over 2 feet in diameter growing in a local graveyard.
These photographs are from previous autumn walks. Even if I had found them in the garden it would not be a cause for concern as they are part of natures support for the environment and many specific species.
See also Fungus comes in all colours, shapes and sizes with most under the soil. The largest living organism in the world is arguably a honey fungus growing 2.4 miles across in the USA.
On this first of August 2020 I am resolved to winnow down my collection of books on gardening and related subjects. I want to separate the wheat from the chaff and boy is there a lot of chaff to sort, probably 500+ tomes plus related ephemera. Not all of this winnowing activity will lead to new posts on this site but my first effort has done.
The most recent book I have read from cover to cover was the entertaining ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben. To me it is a master piece of accessible writing about trees, what they feel, how they communicate and how nature interacts with them. It is based on years of experience as a forester. Peter has acute observational and analytical ability that is well reasoned and simply communicated. The main themes I have taken into my wider gardening and ecological understanding include:
Trees show we can take the long view and there is no need to rush, in fact time may create a far better and sustainable result.
There is a place for everything and with everything in its place we disrupt it at our peril.
We don’t know what we don’t know and there are more things in heaven and earth ( but what the Hamlet to mix my metaphors.)
If trees have social networking with many skills similar to human abilities and traits, then what else can our gardens teach us.
Look at what is easily visible and look again to develop understanding.
Fired with this enthusiasm I looked through for further enlightenment before I pass on the books to others as part of winnowing down from my book shelves. I came across a 1974 book ‘Plants and Environment’ by R F Daubenmire a self professed Textbook of Plant Autecology. The book’s definition of Autecology is wider than a dictionary definition claiming it considers: geology, soils, climatology, zoology, chemistry and physics which are connected to the welfare of living organism and evolution of species. Not dissimilar to Wohlleben’s offering. As I have only read the preface and introduction in detail some chapers have been dipped into to suit my mood at the time. These include; soil, water, temperature, light, atmospheric, biotic, fire, evolution and complex environmental chapters.
As a text book it is more detailed and less apocryphal than the Hidden Life of Trees but aims at ‘the intelligent management of plant life (and trees in particular) for the good on mankind’. Both books have excellent notes and references.
There are a lot of earwigs around this year or so it seems. Typical in a year when I had decided to grow more dahlias than usual but I guess the earwigs must have known that and got on with early breeding.
Facts about Earwigs
Earwigs chew on live shoots, flowers or decaying vegetation and like damp secluded conditions.
In my garden they do most noticeable damage on Chrysanthemums and Dahlias.
Earwigs are attracted to lights when they move around at dusk and nighttime.
Females lay between 30 and 50 small, round, translucent eggs.
Some Control Tips
Good housekeeping, dry areas and removing leaf litter restricts an earwigs desired living conditions
Placing hollow canes around dahlias act as a trap as can grass clippings or mulch removed regularly
Soapy water sprays or chemical formulas can reduce infestations
In a garden the weeping willow can look untidy and in need of a trim as it has a propensity to straggle and have branches trailing on the ground. Along side water it will favour the wet side. This can play havock with the area underneath and the designs symmetry. A solution has been found in this garden which I spotted on a lockdown walkabout. The lower branches have been trimmed to a uniform height around the bole.
The lawn stripes and the neat hedges smack of a professional garden maintenance crew who doubtless have the best tools for the different tasks job.
I liked this photograph of the same garden from another angle. The trim willow is framed by the leaves of the overhang. A shame I couldn’t get a shot without the telegraph pole. See an earlier post from 2009 weeping willow in trim taken in Hay-on-Wye.