Thursday, 31 October 2013

End Of Month View - October 2013


Whilst September slithered out of reach I am struggling to find a word that sums up October. I think that 'sogged' would be it if there was such a word. October 2013 has felt exceptionally wet and mild. It be interesting to read the statistics when they are available. Although the nights have been noticeably colder of late our first frost is still on the cards.

My stars of the month flower wise have been a trio of hardy geraniums especially 'Dilys' (above photo) who deserves to be better known than she is. She is extremely long flowering and has enjoyed this year's weather. I think that she that she may have attracted more attention if she had been given another name. The other two geraniums that have shone through October are 'Bob's Blunder' and 'Salome', which both have most distinctive foliage too over a long season. 'Dilys' and 'Bob' are both still in flower on this last day of October but 'Salome' has given up the ghost.

I've made some inroads on bulb planting in the garden but at the same time have bought some more bulbs so funnily enough the to be planted pile remains more or less the same size. The special snowdrops have received an autumn clean as I've tried to check over each pot and remove any stray little seedlings that have germinated as well as scrape away liverwort. In some cases I've replenished the top dressing of alpine horticultural grit. I've not been able to resist the odd naughty rummage beneath the surface and have been so excited to discover little green snouts. Leaf sweeping has now started in earnest and will be the order of dry days to come for a while longer.

The main path to my allotment plot is a swamp once more so my trips are getting fewer and further between. The main edible attraction is the autumn flowering raspberries 'Polka'. The plants are having their most bountiful year ever. I have probably said before that not only are the fruits bigger than my summer fruiting raspberries but they are also superior taste wise. They certainly live up to any description of them that you might read in a catalogue or in a book.

Last weekend saw some garlic planting. I'm not quite sure what I've planted though. I was pleased to come across 'The Garlic Farm' at the Malvern Autumn Show and came home with four bulbs of garlic to plant. I sought advice as to what would be suitable for planting here in north west England. Unfortunately the otherwise helpful young man did not write the names down on the paper bag they went in to but it was equally my fault for not asking him to. I've been in that situation before so should have learned my lesson by now. I'm fairly sure though that one of them is 'Early Purple Wight' whilst whilst the other is destined to be anonymous. The two bulbs that will be planted later are definitely 'Solent Wight' which I've grown before. I'm still debating whether to plant the 'Jermor' shallots that I bought at the show or wait until spring. They are suitable for autumn planting but if we are in for a wet winter they may be better planted in the spring. Either way I will have to decide very soon.

The last of the climbing French beans have been eaten and the beanpole wigwams have now been dismantled. I've picked my one and only 'Black Futsu' winter squash and am patiently waiting for its skin to turn colour from dark green to a rich chestnut. I fear that this may never happen but will post more about it at some stage in the future as it's a born survivor. Still much tidying up to do before thoughts can turn to next year's crops.

In the greenhouse the sweet pea seeds have germinated and are making sturdy growth. Most of the penstemon cuttings I took have rooted so can just tick over during the next few months. I will pot them up individually in spring. I also have some seedlings of annuals to get through the winter. Some plants have now migrated inside the greenhouse for winter protection. They will be joined by the dahlias once their leaves or what remains of them receive their first frosting. The spider plant babies that came home with me from the Chester Cathedral open garden plant stall have now come inside the house. They all rooted and I hope to grow them in containers next year.

New plant additions have been minimal. I confessed to the hesperantha earlier this month here and have managed to commit the new name to memory. I bought a tray of smiling faced purple and white violas from our local market. Finally I've been given a well established melianthus major from one of my allotment friends. I've had this plant before but lost it so am delighted to have the chance to grow it again.

Thanks as always to Helen over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog' for enabling us to share our end of month views.

PS Blogger seems to have a touch of the gremlins as my post published minus its top and tail ie post header and a link to Helen's website which I've now remedied - I think that the bits in between are still intact.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Glut,Wot Glut?


The last courgette of the year has been consumed this week and the battered, mildewy plant dispatched to the glories of the compost heap. It was an unsatisfactory year for courgettes for me as although the harvest lasted over a long spell, output was far from prolific - the word 'glut' never entered the equation. I've attributed this to the fact that they were not sown and subsequently planted out until quite late and were then abandoned in that hot spell in July. They had set fruits before we went on holiday but I removed all the immature fruits before we went on holiday. My lovely plot neighbour kept things ticking over providing welcome liquid refreshment at intervals but I think that that the courgettes stuttered somewhat to establish themselves. Back home the above photo was taken on the 21st July but there were also sadly a number of courgettes looking like this ~ 


A bit of a horror show!

For the record I planted 3 different varieties and a total of 4 plants :

'Romanesco' (sown 15/04/13 - a variety which I've grown for a number of years, it produces long green small to medium sized ridged courgettes and has a pleasing shape when sliced. It's often described as having a 'nutty' taste but I can't say that I've noticed this when eating it. This performed satisfactorily but has done better in previous years.

I was prompted to grow the other two varieties after reading an article on courgettes in the RHS magazine 'The Garden'. In an in depth article 32 different varieties were grown and in conclusion observations were made on the basis of yield and appearance. I experimented with :

'Brice'  (sown either 18 or 19/04/13) - I liked the look of this round green courgette and the taste but I picked far few courgettes from this than the other varieties. I still have some of the rather expensive seeds left, so will have another go next year but may try another round green courgette for comparison.

'Floridor' (sown - 15/04/13)  - this produced the most attractive sunshine yellow round courgettes. It seemed to set plenty of fruit but unfortunately some did not mature. Definitely a contender for next year's sowing plans. Again there is left over seed.

You can see full details of all 32 courgette varieties here in a useful chart format.

What I have decided to do next year is to stagger seed sowing. How did you fare with courgette growing in 2013, what did you grow and what would you recommend? 

Friday, 25 October 2013

A Sprinkle Of Glitter


Inspired by a friend's birthday present of a book entitled 'The Edible Flower Garden' and by Veg Plotting's  52 Week Salad Challenge, I've been on a mission to be more adventurous this year. I started eating flowers at an early age. In the summer months lightly fried courgette flowers dipped in a herby batter appeared quite regularly on the menu. Little did I know how unusual it was to eat such fare in England at that time. My Mum is Italian so bought she this dish with her persuading my Dad to grow zucchini, as we grew up calling them, on his allotment plot. Dad was the first person to grow them on his allotment site yet now these are staple plants on most plots. As I got older I think that perhaps I became more cautious about what I ate especially when I started to cook for myself. It's only in the last few years since I've had my own plot that I've been munching flowers again. This year I've eaten some flowers that I have tasted before such as roses, calendula, nasturtiums, violas, chive, borage and lavender but have also made a conscious effort to try out one or two new to me tastes :

The first of these were tulip petals. It's that long ago that I can't remember what they actually tasted like. I think that they were quite innocuous though. My book advised that a few people are allergic to tulips so that "all new diners should proceed with caution" which is exactly what I did. They obviously did not make much of an impact though so there was no danger of spoiling the aesthetic appeal of my pots of spring flowering bulbs.

Then in early summer there were pea flowers - yes the flowers of the garden pea. If you asked me what they tasted like I would have to say of pea. Nothing special but not at all unpleasant. My book suggests that "flowers of some varieties have a "grassy flavour" ; others have a mild, sweet, floral taste". I can imagine a few scattered in a salad but given that a pea flower turns into a pea pod I would rather enjoy the final product on my plate.

Day lily or hemerocallis flowers were also munched in 2013. Apparently the taste of the petals can range from "sweet floral to slightly metallic". Advice is given that you should taste them before using them in a recipe. Fortunately I came across "sweet floral" only. I was pleased that I was able to tempt himself into having a little taste of them when we were on holiday. The suspicious look on his face was priceless. When he realised that he was still living we had a conversation as to whether the colour of the petal might produce different tastes but we were unable to put this to the test at the time. Must try this out next year.

Moving on to pinks or dianthus. I have a most strongly scented bright pink pink growing at the allotment and it was petals from this plant that I tried. Taste wise the experience was pleasantly warm and clovelike. Definitely more memorable than pea or day lily.

Finally the revelation of the year were the petals of anise hyssop or agastache. A lot of taste is packed into these quite tiny petals. Aniseedy and reminiscent of a childhood sweet these are most refreshing and moreish. I had the odd nibble most days when I passed by the plant and was worried that I might eventually pluck the flower heads bald.

There are comprehensive lists of edible flowers over at Derry Watkin's Special Plants Nursery website (see list entitled 'Edibles In The Border') as well at over at Thompson and Morgan where there are also some recipe suggestions. Another list of suggestions can be found in Alys Fowler's book 'The Edible Garden'.  Mark Diacono's book 'A Taste Of The Unexpected' includes a chapter on on 'Leaves and Flowers'. I particularly liked his advice "I'll also urge you to eat a few flowers. Although they may not be enough to keep body and soul together, edible flowers do add a little glitter to what otherwise be a plainer parade".

It goes without saying that you need to make sure that you need to do some careful research and have your facts right before you taste any flowers or come to think of it any other part of a plant. Expectant mothers and anybody with a medical condition needs to be extra careful. Some flowers may be eaten whole whilst with others just the petals are edible.

Meanwhile if you grow chrysanthemums in your garden and see an intruder leaning over them in the next few weeks to have a nibble it could well be me!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

"To market, to market"


Not to buy a fat pig in this instance but it was to to market I headed late last week, after perusing Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day posts. Invariably GBBD posts remind me of plants that I'm hankering for, are responsible for additions to the wish list or jog the recesses of my memory, as happened this month after reading Jessica's post over at rusty duck. Whatever happened to my schizostylis coccinea plants? At various points over the years I've planted red, pink and white flowering versions of this autumn flowering perennial, yet they have all vamooshed without a trace. Why and exactly when I am unable to pinpoint.

Hoping to find a replacement sooner than later I called in at our local Country Market. If you've not come across Country Markets before they are well worth a visit. Formerly known as Women's Institute Markets they changed their name several years ago now. There is a network of markets across across England and Wales - you can see exactly where here. They are usually open for a few hours each week on a specific day. On sale you will find a range of baked goods, jams, preserves, honey, eggs, fruit, vegetables, plants and crafts. All items must be home produced or home grown. I've bought a number of excellent perennials and shrubs over the years from our local market at most reasonable prices and at one stage was a plant producer for a few years.

The plants on sale usually reflect what is currently in flower so I was pleased to find that there was actually more than one schizostylis plant for sale. I agonised over which to purchase eventually opting for the one you can see above rather than a pale pink flower. It was definitely a case of "Home again, home again jiggety- jig".

PS It took me a long time to get my head round not only spelling the name of this plant but also pronouncing it. Guess what? After reading the information label that comes with each plant, I discovered that it has changed its name and is now hesperantha coccinea. I'm not sure when this happened but I'm getting too old for this name change game!


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

GBBD ~ October 2013


A blue and yellow combination for October. I've decided that I will never win my long standing battle to completely eradicate the dreaded 'Yellow Peril', so I am letting the odd one have its head, allowing it to wander through the scutelleria. Meanwhile I'm convinced that I recently read about a scutelleria with deep purple foliage which looked absolutely bewitching but am unable to find the relevant gardening magazine to make a note of its name. Typical!

Thanks to Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for enabling us to share our blooms each month.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Pride Becomes Before A Fall


Smug satisfaction about my bumper 2013 apple harvest has rapidly gone out of the window, or it might be more appropriate to say out of the garage door in this case. There has been much gnashing and gnawing of teeth. Venturing in to the garage earlier this week to store some spring flowering bulbs until I was ready to plant them, I thought to have a quick look at my apples. What apples? Some of them had totally disappeared without a trace whilst others had been nibbled. Result - some 60 or so apples totally ruined. I could have wept.

The Crime Scene 
The garage, the doors of which have been left open all day for most of the past week, as himself is engaged in a major diy project so there has been much coming and going.

Whodunit? 
Main suspect is squirrels .We have a plague of the creatures which are up to seasonal mischief at the moment hiding conkers away for their winter larder. They usually appear to forget about them and leave me to pull out chestnut seedlings in the spring.

There is about an acre of uncultivated land behind the garden which has a stream running through it, so over the years we've seen the odd rat or two but I can't see a rat making off with a whole apple.

Any other suggestions to add to the wanted poster which will be going up shortly?

The Verdict
Apart from giving every squirrel I see a dirty look for the foreseeable future, the decision has been made to store next years crop in the harder to access shed. As for apples I still have a few left in the house so I am going to savour those with even greater delight.

PS What I forgot to say was that there was also a nasty present from the culprit in the form of some droppings. Maybe other unsavoury doings went on. That decided me on not attempting any rescue as far as the remains were concerned.

Monday, 7 October 2013

All Sown Up


- well not quite. This weekend was blessed with ideal weather for outdoor work. A full day out at the allotment on Saturday whilst yesterday was devoted to the garden. On a blissfully sunny October afternoon it is hard to get your head around how much earlier darkness falls and to realise that that you have not got that seemingly eternity of a June evening stretching ahead of you. There seems to be a mad rush to try to accomplish all you want to. I was however intent on sowing some sweet peas this weekend which I have done using my discovery of the year - root trainers! I ordered a couple of these earlier in the year from Sara Raven, making use of a free packing and post offer. They were used to sow sweet peas in the spring as well as for climbing French bean and pea seeds. When you get to the stage of releasing them from their cells to plant each plant has such sturdy, well developed root balls so planting them out is so much easier and with far less risk of root damage. I'm kicking myself for not trying them sooner. Although they are not made of the most sturdy of materials and will probably will not last much more than a couple of seasons, I'm so pleased with them that I will be ordering a couple more packs before next spring.  My spring sown sweet peas flourished and I'm still picking small bunches now.



So far lathyrus 'Fire and Ice' and lathyrus odaratus 'Almost Black' have been sown. I never soak my sweet peas seeds as is sometimes recommended but have rarely had any problems with germination. I've sown them one to a cell with the hope of seeing some green shoots later this month. Plans to also sow my favourite lathyrus 'Matucana' were thwarted as I could not find the seed packet that I thought I had. Will have to have a thorough search today. If unable to find them I will just have about enough time to locate another packet to sow by the middle of the month, which is the latest time recommended for sowing in the north of the country.

I've also spent some time preparing for the colder nights that are predicted for later this week. I doubt that we will have frost but just in case tender plants, that have been sitting out for the summer, are now near to the greenhouse in readiness for a quick move indoors. I also made a start on the task of sorting out plants that will be overwintering in the cold frames - pots have been emptied of their contents which have in turn been throughly inspected before being popped back in. I discovered a number of glistening slug eggs in the process so was pleased to nip these in the bud before they had the chance to become fully grown molluscs. Have you finished putting the garden to bed yet or are you like me still dashing round to fit it all in? I've still got perennials to plant and as for planting bulbs there's another story ......

P.S The bulbs were conveniently out of sight therefore out of mind but a box of bulbs from Peter Nyssen has just arrived this morning - the pressure is on!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A Poem For October


Today is National Poetry Day. This year's theme is "water, water everywhere" and after much searching, I found a poem which I think reflects the month and includes a passing reference to water:

"O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather; 
  
When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant; 
  
When gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning; 
  
When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining; 
  
When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing; 
  
When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting; 
  
When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October's bright blue weather. 
  
O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October's bright blue weather."


'October's Bright Blue Skies' is by Helen Hunt Jackson, 1830 - 1835.

I have to confess and you've probably guessed that the bright blue sky in the above photo was snapped much nearer to June than October. October blue skies are so much softer than those of June, not usually as warming but just as welcome and perhaps more appreciated.


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

End Of Month View ~ September 2013


Making his entrance stage left is our water feature who was mentioned in August's EOMV. Huck has sat outside to the left of our front door for many years now. His body parts are concrete but we thought he would look better painted and he has in fact just been made presentable again. His poor hands were showing signs of severe wear and tear and the paint disguises a couple of partially missing fingers. His head had been in receipt of more recent tlc and we were both in accord that the green deposits are in keeping with his character. In theory the barrel should have disintegrated some years ago. At various stages it has had rubber ducks and artificial water lilies floating in it, been home to a dim night light, has spouted flourescent coloured water and at one point a misty like spray floated above the water. For now though he is unadorned. The trickle of water makes a comforting noise by day but is an absolute xxxxxx when we have got into bed at night and have realised that we have left him on.

Anyway I digress - September has slithered out of reach and what has been going on? Not much on the gardening front. The earlier part of the month was rather grotty weather wise and progress has been hampered by the fact that I've been away for three weekends in a row (a most unsusual scenario. I seem to have stalled somewhat so will need to fit a lot into October to catch up with what I would like to do.

Giving me pleasure in the garden this month has been my newly purchased anemone 'White Swan' which came home with me from the Southport Flower Show. Most unusually the back view of the flowers is just as attractive as the front ~


It's sister 'Dreaming Swan' appeared on the scene this year and plants were for sale at the Malvern Autumn Show ~

I decided that I prefer the single petals of 'White Swan' so my swan will continue to swim solo.

In the greenhouse my early September sowings have germinated so I've now got seedlings of orlaya grandflora, a dianthus (name presently slipping mind), nicotiana mutablis, briza maxima and tragopogan (salsify) and a pale pink foxglove to get through the winter. Persicaria orientalis and a clematis (again name slipping mind) have still to show. The last cucumber has dropped off and there are but a handful of tomatoes left to pick.

At the allotment all the apples bar 'Sunset' have been picked, the beans are finally on their last legs whilst raspberry 'Polka' has been the star of the month. Lots of big, sweet berries to nibble on when I'm working. There have also been a few strawberries on the planted this year 'Albion' plants but I'm still to be convinced about their taste. The courgettes are still going although production has slowed down whilst the' Black Futsu' squashes may still come good. Late last week I lifted the bed of 'Pink Fir Apple' potatoes which have now come home where they are drying out for a few days before going into storage. A much better harvest than 2012. The cold spring delayed me from planting them until early May which had the advantage of not having to worry about frost damaging emerging leaves. By the time the foliage showed there was little risk of frost and if had been predicted it would have been easy to cover the foliage. I think that I will plant late in the future.

Earlier in the month himself provided muscle to clear one of three areas on the plot that was still in need of sorting. Bark was spread, paths laid and three little temporary beds have been created. Now just two more patches to tame.

September plant purchases - one or two plant purchases were made at the Malvern Autumn Show this weekend. I came home with a variegated leaved strawberry which I've had before but lost over the years. It's a great little ground cover plant for shady spots. I also bought three of those little clematis plants that you often come across at shows. My purchases were 'Duchess of Albany', montana 'Warwickshire Rose' and ''Alionushka' - somewhat of a pink theme going on. A small corm of crocosmia 'George Davidson' from Trecanna Nursery came home in a little brown paper bag. A bargain at a £1 it hopefully will bulk up next year. I was also delighted to see 'The Garlic Farm' at the show - garlic for planting duly purchased and Pennard Plants were also present - 'Jermor' shallots for autumn planting purchased. Oh and I bought a grass earlier in the month - panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal'. The bulb order was sent off in September so it looks as if October will be a busy month.

Thanks as always to Helen over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog' who came up with the excellent idea of an EOMV. Off in a few minutes to actually do some gardening but looking forward to lingering over some end of month views later on today at leisure with notebook and pen at hand.