Monthly Archives: May 2014

Last minute veg!

It’s getting a bit late in the season for this, but, inspired by the BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge and by browsing the interweb, I have decided to sow some veg in containers.

Now, this is not completely new to me given that I grow tomatoes in bags every year and tried french beans in a pot last year (I’m having another go this year, but no germination yet!) but I’ve never grown either carrots or spring onions before, so this could be quite a challenge.

Here is my micro-allotment(!):


The pot is 38cm square by 28cm deep filled with multi-purpose compost, and in it I have sown 3 rows of carrots (Chantenay Red Cored 2) with a couple of rows of spring onions (White Lisbon) on the outside edges (planting onions alongside carrots is supposed to confuse the carrot root fly, so here’s hoping!).

I’m also planning an identical pot of perpetual spinach and possibly a couple of smaller pots with cut-and-come-again salad leaves, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’ve temporarily put some wire mesh over it to stop the local cats from scratching in it, watered it and placed it in what should be a sunny spot if we ever see the sun again this summer!

I have to confess that at the moment I’m envisaging a summer-long battle with slugs, snails, aphids and any other pest you can name, but I might get lucky and have something to eat at the end of it all…


A Damsel Departs

Never think that just because you have a very small outdoor space you cannot include a worthwhile aquatic feature.

I have two tubs with water in, the main one being a 50cm diameter round container that holds 66 litres of water, which isn’t a great deal yet still makes a home for wildlife such as the damselfly, pictured here having recently emerged from its larval case:




All I grow in this tub of water is a dwarf water lily (which sadly never flowers), some water mint (very vigorous, but you can keep pulling it out as needs be), Parrot’s feather and Butomus umbellatus (Flowering rush), upon which this particular insect is sitting – oh, and a lot of algae, but that’s another story!

It sits above ground, so I’m sure it gets too hot in summer and probably freezes solid in some winters, yet still pretty much every year around this time I see damselflies emerging. As long as they have something to crawl up to get out of the water, and as long as I don’t clean it out in early spring and inadvertently oust the larvae, they seem to thrive in there.

So give it a go; you’re almost bound to be giving something a home!

Survivors and earlier-than-usual risers!

Clearing out my coldframe this morning, I was surprised to see that I have some unlikely survivors from last year, namely three citrus seedlings that I grew from supermarket fruit last spring:


Okay, they’re in pretty bad shape – slugs and snails have had a good old munch by the looks of things! – but somehow, they’re still alive having had no more winter protection than could be provided by my coldframe against the house wall. I know we had an incredibly mild winter, but even so, I wouldn’t have thought that very small citrus seedlings would have come through it without heat.

And then there are my remnant fuchsias from last year. Just the other day I spotted:


my “Swingtime” from last year has not only survived almost intact but is already flowering! The only protection that it had was pulling the pot up against the house wall, but I do that every year and have never had this happen before. I didn’t even put any horticultural fleece on it…amazing!

To add to the list of early risers, I have a pink diascia from last year in flower:


and also Alstroemeria “Cahors”:


Both of these could be flowering until November so I think I’d better get feeding them!

Lastly, this is the earliest I’ve ever seen this in flower in my garden:


Tradescantia “Sweet Kate”, sadly rather chomped by pests before I realised it, but stunning nonetheless (especially from far enough away not to see the damage, lol!).

Tuberous begonia cuttings – May update

Back at the end of July last year I took a couple of cuttings of a large-flowered tuberous begonia on the off chance that they might root

They duly did – which is just as well, because I think I’ve managed to lose the parent over the winter! – and have been steadily growing ever since.

Here is a side-by-side pic to show the development in the last couple of months:


Both flowering and healthy-looking, but both as leggy as can be.

Perhaps this is why they should be encouraged to go dormant in the winter (I didn’t do that because I felt they were too under-developed to survive), because if they don’t, they end up making one very long stem and nothing else!

Oh well. I’ll keep them going and see what happens. I have two of them, so I can experiment a bit, maybe prune the top off the taller one (when those flowers are spent) and see if it makes some sideshoots?

I refuse to see them as a lost cause quite yet…

Dividing a Primrose

More of a “how-I-do” than a “how-to-do”, and very, very simple!

I have one primrose in a pot, and it was absolutely gorgeous this year – flowered its little socks off – so I’d like to increase it and dot a few around the shadier parts of my garden.

Here it is in said pot:


It’s not desperately tight for space in this pot, but I don’t want it to get that way otherwise it will be an absolute rotter to remove (the top of the pot curves back inwards, which means I wouldn’t be able to pull it out without a fight!).

I set to with a hand fork and got it out relatively easily, then pulled the crown apart – quite a brutal but at the same time careful process – which yielded 3 separate mini-plants, complete with some roots:


I then part-filled some pots with multi-purpose compost, removed any remaining flower stalks and all but 3 or 4 leaves on each new plant (to reduce water loss while they establish) and potted up the divisions:


I then watered them well and placed them in my shady coldframe to grow on.

Of course, you don’t have to pot them up: they could go straight out into a shady spot in the garden, and if you have a lot of plants to divide that’s almost bound to be the best thing to do, but as I only have the one and as I feel I can protect them from pest damage and control their early development more effectively if I put them in pots, that’s how I like to do it.

Red alert!

If you haven’t started already, it’s time here in the UK to begin inspecting your lily plants for these:


Scarlet Lily beetle, a modern invader to our shores that has no natural predators here and whose grubs and adults can completely defoliate your lilies in days if left unchecked.

They’re only small – about a centimetre or so long -but their brilliant scarlet colouring makes them pretty easy to spot, although you do need to inspect under the leaves for the adults, their eggs, which are about a millimetre long, orangey-red and laid in small clusters, and any grubs that may have hatched out (they cover themselves in their own excrement – nice!).

Control is either by hand (pick ’em off and squish ’em!) or there are chemicals available, such as Provado Ultimate Bug Killer (I don’t use chemicals if I can avoid them, so I don’t know how effective this is).

One tip if you’re controlling by hand is to have a small pot or bowl at the ready and when you spot one of the little blighters, put the receptacle underneath and knock them into it, because one of their defence mechanisms when attacked is to drop to the ground on their backs so that their black undersides are uppermost, at which point you will have almost no chance of spotting them!

I’ve only caught three thus far this year, but I do only have a single pot of tree lilies to patrol, and I re-pot them every autumn to try to dispose of any over-wintering adults, so I really shouldn’t have a big problem.

Good luck to all lily-lovers out there!

Propagating Pinks from cuttings – step by step

Given this ridiculously early season we’re having, it is already time in my south of England garden to take cuttings of pinks; in fact, I’ve had my eye on them for that purpose for at least a couple of weeks!

First, I gather my materials:


A pot, sharp secateurs or a knife for trimming, and a compost mix of two parts multi-purpose compost and one part perlite.

Then I select the plant I’m intending to use, “Widecombe Fair” in this case:


Lots of decent material here. I’m looking for what are known as “pipings” – short, non-flowering side shoots with strong and healthy-looking foliage located at or near the base of the plant.

The best time to take any cuttings is early morning when the tissues are still turgid from overnight. I select 7 shoots, carefully removing them from the plant by holding them at the base and pulling them down and away from the stem. This results in a little piece of the main stem coming with them, like so:


The next job is to clean them up. I like to trim down the piece of residual main stem (“heel”) then take off the lower leaves and anything that looks like it might rot:


You can pinch out the tip of each one at this stage too, although I often forget to do it! Then it’s just a case of making a small hole down the side of the pot and putting the cutting in:



You can use rooting hormone if you wish, but I don’t find it necessary for most subjects.

The finished pot:


Pop a label in, water the cuttings in well (I use a watering can with a fine rose) and place it in a propagator or, in my case, in a clear plastic bag in the coldframe. In a few weeks time they should have rooted and I’ll have yet more plants that I really don’t have space for, lol!

Tomatoes in grow bags: how to drain?

I am confused.

I have grown tomatoes in grow bags for many years now and have always, without thinking, punctured several drainage holes directly underneath the bag.

Why do I do this? Because all gardeners know that unless you’re creating a pond, you need drainage holes – good, big ones! – or your plants will quickly turn to a waterlogged mush and will be ruined. We just know it.

Therefore, it came as some surprise to me this morning when, for once, I actually bothered to read the instructions on my grow bag (a Levington Tomorite Giant Tomato Planter) that it specifically said NOT to make holes in the underside of the bag but to put them halfway up the side.

Really? But?…but?…won’t the roots drown and my plants die a sodden death??

Clearly the makers of grow bags know less about how best to use their product than I do (!) so I was about to ignore them and reach for the scissors when it occurred to me to read the instructions for the growpots that I like to use along with the bags and discovered that they too recommended NOT making holes in the underside of the bag but halfway up it instead, as per the following diagram:


I then went scouting round the internet to see if I could find a consensus of opinion but came back none the wiser. Some people advise making holes in the base of the bag, some don’t. Helpful!

So what have I decided? I’m taking a deep breath, crossing my fingers and doing it the makers’ way by putting the holes halfway up the bag – yikes! It goes against all my instincts and I am already convinced that my plants will keel over by July, but nonetheless, if I don’t try it I’ll never know!

The tomatoes, newly planted up – “Sungold” at each end and “Matina” in the middle:


To make this a fair test I will of course be adhering absolutely to the watering regime suggested by the growpot manufacturer, which goes as follows:

  1. On planting, water inner pot with 0.5 litres and outer trough with about 2 litres.
  2. For the next two weeks, do not water the outer trough (I am presuming I can water the inner pot if it looks very dry??)
  3. For the next 3-4 weeks pour 1 litre of water into the outer trough every 2-3 days. The inner pot should not be allowed to dry out and should be watered at least once a week.
  4. When plants have matured the outer trough may need filling with water every day depending how hot and sunny it is.
  5. To check for over-watering, one should squeeze the bag close to the drain holes and if any seeps out cease watering for a day.


Feeding should be done according to the feed instructions, applying it to the inner pot.


It does seem a bit hit and miss to me, but we’ll see!


First Clematis flower of the year!

Just wish I knew which one it is!:


It’s one of a collection of 3 that I bought from Raymond Evison (via QVC) a couple of years ago, and unfortunately I lost the labels (typical of me, I’m afraid!). I remember that they are all supposedly dwarf in nature and therefore suited to container culture, but beyond that I haven’t a clue!

It hasn’t shown much vigour for the first two years of its life but I’m determined to feed it, water it and generally cosset it this year to see if I can’t persuade a bit more exuberance from it – likewise its two pot-mates, though that may in fact be the problem: too many clematis in too small a space!

I’ll see how they do this year and if they still seem a bit weedy I’ll get a bigger pot for next year…


Citrus propagation – one year progress report

Well, it’s been about a year since I started trying to propagate my grafted Citrus mitis plant from cuttings and seed so I reckon it’s time for an update.

To be honest, none of them are looking great at the moment:





In spite of being fed with citrus tonic both cuttings and seedling are showing sickly-looking pale yellow new growth rather than the fresh lime-green new growth that the parent plant produces.

I could only think that this is iron deficiency (chlorosis) brought on by my hard tap water, but if so, why does the parent plant not have a problem?

Then I remembered that this is the first time I’ve actually tried to grow Citrus mitis on its own roots: the parent plant is a specimen I grafted onto a rootstock I grew from an ordinary supermarket orange pip, so perhaps by pure dumb luck I grew a lime-tolerant plant. The cuttings and the seedling are both relying on their own roots and maybe the roots of Citrus mitis are not as lime-tolerant?

Anyway, I’ve treated them all with a sequestrene iron tonic and I’ll see what happens.

Growth-wise, none of them have exactly been romping away, but I suppose if there has been a nutrient deficiency that won’t have been helping.

Would I bother again? Probably not to be honest. It was a fun challenge but I found my grafted specimens from years back produced sizeable specimens much more quickly, though of course I have to factor in the year spent growing the rootstock from a pip to begin with(!)

I’ll keep going with these for the time being and see how they develop. I’m intending to put them outside for the summer and hope that that will give them a bit of a boost.