Well, it took 8 days for the first root to appear (yesterday), but my tomato side shoot is really picking up the pace today:



The question is, do I bother to do anything with it? The only reason I stuck it in some water was to see how easily it would root, and the answer is, “very!”, but I don’t actually need any more plants, sooooo….?

Actually, why am I even pretending to ponder this?? I’m a gardener, and as such I can almost never bring myself to throw away healthy plant material, so you just know that this cutting is going to get potted up and bunged somewhere or other, if only to find out how quickly it grows and becomes productive.

Inquiring minds need to know…


Propagating lilies: 3rd update

Time for a progress report on my lily propagation project, which started at the back end of last summer.

In February I posted a picture showing the new plantlets having sprouted a single leaf each:


They stayed like that for a few months, during which time I hardened them off to outside conditions. Then at the beginning of May I started to notice more growth, so I reckoned it would soon be time to investigate what was going on below the surface. I finally got around to doing this today, and here is what I found when I knocked them out of the pots:


Perfect little replicas of the parent bulb complete with tiny scales, measuring about the size of a 20p piece. Here is a slightly closer view:


They were still attached to the scales from which they grew, so I very carefully broke them off before I photographed them and then potted them up individually into 7cm pots of multipurpose compost.

I sincerely hope that my timings are right and that I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. It may be that you’re meant to leave the new mini bulbs attached to the parent scale until it rots away rather than breaking them off to fend for themselves, but I haven’t been able to find out one way or the other, so I’ve taken a chance!

I’ve put them back in my coldframe in the shade for the time being to give them a bit of protection, so we’ll see what happens next. Fingers crossed!

Alstroemeria – a moving tale(!)

Whenever I add a new plant to my collection I generally find it takes a few seasons to become properly acquainted with it, and my alstroemerias are no exception.

I’ve been growing the Planet series of alstroemerias, namely Cahors, Sirius, Uranus and Sedna, for only a couple of years, and I now know from experience that they are reasonably reliable as regards overwintering in my location, both in containers and in the ground (they haven’t been tested for prolonged periods of below -5C, but that is rare in this part of the world, thankfully!). I also know that they flower freely over a very long period from May right through to December in milder years, that they aren’t overly demanding when it comes to food and water, that their flowering stems need support of some kind and that they appear to be non-invasive.

What I didn’t know until this spring was how they respond to being dug up and moved, something which varies greatly between species, so I decided to experiment with my clump of Cahors which I’d planted quite close to Sirius and needed shifting along a bit.

I was in two minds as to when to do it: for many herbaceous plants it doesn’t really matter whether you lift them in autumn or spring, but given that in my garden all my alstroemerias insist on flowering way into December I decided spring was probably the better option. So, in late March I set to with a fork and spade, carefully digging up the clump and re-planting it in manured ground a foot or so away. Then I waited….and waited….and waited.

I have to say that by the end of April I was starting to think that I’d managed to kill it because, whilst all my other untouched plants were sprouting vigorous new shoots, Cahors was doing absolutely nothing. Nary a leaf nor stem. It wasn’t until mid May that I finally started to see signs of life, and even now there isn’t much to show for it:


Just 3 short shoots have emerged thus far compared to the dozen or so much taller ones that have come up from the untouched plants:


So I think what I’ve learnt here is that whilst they can definitely be lifted and divided, they do not particularly appreciate the disturbance and are probably best left to their own devices as much as possible, only requiring attention when they become over-congested.

I imagine that my clump of Cahors will re-establish itself fairly quickly and will ultimately benefit from having a bit more elbow room, but I shall know to leave it in peace for a good few years now!

Side-shooting tomatoes

It’s about now that I’m really on the lookout for unwanted growth on my tomato plants.

Owing to space restrictions, I grow only indeterminate (also known as cordon) varieties of tomatoes, ie. those that are reduced to a single main stem which bears the crop. This means that all side shoots have to be removed as soon as they are large enough to be grasped and detached, and as they start to appear quite early in the development of the plant, you have to keep an eye out for them.

This is what you’re looking for:


They are very easy to spot, popping up as they do at the junction of the main stem and a leaf stalk, and easy enough to pinch out with finger and thumbnail as long as they haven’t been allowed to get enormous. The only caveat is to take them off as cleanly as possible without ripping or scratching the stem – the less damage you do to plants at any stage of their life, the better as far as I’m concerned.

In the past I have always discarded these side shoots, but just for fun I thought I would try to make a new plant from one – tomatoes are apparently incredibly willing to root from cuttings, and as a removed side shoot is effectively a cutting it should root very readily.

The easiest method is simply to suspend it in water, so I found a tiny glass jar and did just that:


I will leave it in a bright, warm place, and hopefully it should start to root in a matter of days – we shall see!

Pestwatch: Solomon’s Seal Sawfly

If you grow any variety of Polygonatum, common name Solomon’s seal, you may well find a bunch of these little critters hanging around your plants round about now:


This black insect is less than a centimetre long and looks fairly innocuous, but its offspring, a whitish-grey grub, can completely defoliate a plant by mid summer leaving it weakened for the following year, not to mention very unsightly in the meantime!

Controlling the adult insects isn’t really an option – I have been known to swat a few if I see them, though! – so the best thing to do is look out for early signs of larval activity (holes being eaten in the leaves) then search the undersides of leaves and remove the offenders.

If control by hand is impractical, plants can be sprayed with chemicals such as Westland Resolva Bug Killer (there are other recommendations on the RHS website).

May catch-up, long overdue!

My problem with blogging about gardening at this time of year is that I find myself so busy doing things I don’t seem to find much time to write about them.

However, happily – or unhappily! – the weather gods have decided to bestow upon us a typical Bank Holiday weekend of patchy rain and gloom, so I have no excuse not  to fire up the computer and record at least some of my doings.

March saw me making the first sowings in the veg department, namely my tomatoes. Many people start them in late winter, but as I don’t have a heated greenhouse – or any greenhouse! – the earliest I can realistically expect to begin is a week or so before the end of March.

I sowed 3 varieties, “Sungold”, “Gardeners’ Delight” and “Marmande”, in shallow pans of sieved multipurpose compost, placing them on the hood of my tropical fish tank for bottom heat – I do actually own a windowsill propagator, but if I can use the heat from something else, all the better! – and they came up in a matter of days. As soon as they were through, I moved them to a sunny windowsill and was lucky that we enjoyed a lot of bright weather at that time, which enabled them to grow into stocky little seedlings ready for pricking out individually  into 6cm pots. Very swiftly they outgrew those, so I re-potted them into the 12cm pots that should hopefully last them until they make their final move into growbags at the end of this month.

All of that seems fairly simple, and indeed it is, except for the fact that without a greenhouse I have to play a very canny game to grow them on in the early stages.

My basic aim is to get them outside as soon as possible and as often as possible in order to free up space indoors for other things and to enable them to grow in the best light, but of course, being tender plants that really don’t enjoy temperatures much below 10C, I have to be very careful about how and when I put them out.

Last year was a bit of a doddle, being one of the mildest springs I can remember, but this year’s Arctic blast in late April gave me many a tricky moment. Some days it was fine to put them out, but they needed to come in overnight; some days it was okay to leave them out overnight as well as during the day, and others it wasn’t suitable to put them out day or night, so I spent quite a lot of time carting them to and fro, often changing my mind mid-move!

It seems to have worked out alright thus far, though. Here are nine of them:


For the purposes of photography I obviously needed to remove the enviromesh cover that I place over them for protection from the elements, but I put it back immediately as I like to keep them under some kind of cover for as long as possible.

The remaining four plants are still short enough (just!) to reside in my growhouse (a cupboard-shaped coldframe, basically), but they will soon need staking and moving on to join their friends:


They look a tad yellow in that photo, but they aren’t in real life – just a trick of the light.

So, that’s the saga of my tomatoes: I shall be heartily glad when the last frost date has passed (last week of May here) and I can finally stop trundling them around!

At the end of March I turned my attention to some other salad crops, thankfully, less Prima Donna-ish ones than tomatoes! As the weather seemed quite mild at the time, I thought I’d try sowing some radishes directly into a container outside with a single layer of horticultural fleece for protection. After little more than a week, much to my delight, they emerged, and by the 6th April they looked like this:


Roll on a month and now they look like this:


There are two varieties here: the round ones at the front are “Jolly” and the cylindrical ones at the back are “French Breakfast”. I grew both last year and liked the taste equally, though on balance if I had to choose between them I’d probably prefer  to grow “Jolly” because it matures more quickly.

I’ve never actually tried to sow seed outdoors as early as the end of March/beginning of April, but I thought I’d give it a go and having been rewarded with my first harvesting-sized radishes in only four weeks,  I shall definitely be doing it again!

I also started some salad bowl lettuces and spring onions at the same time, germinating them in  containers indoors then putting them out under fleece in mid-April, but as yet they are showing little enthusiasm for getting going – I think the late April cold snap may have had more than a little to do with that. Hopefully they’ll put on a spurt when the weather turns a little warmer again.

And apart from a small sowing of coriander (indoors) that’s pretty much it for veg. I will be growing a couple of runner bean plants, more to fill a space on a fence than anything else, but I won’t be doing French beans, perpetual spinach or carrots this year as I simply don’t have the room to get a decent enough crop.

I haven’t even touched on ornamentals in this post, but that will be my subject next time – hopefully before June!

Butterflies and blooms

Well, one butterfly – a Peacock:


The flower it’s basking on is a pink Bergenia cordifolia, good old elephant’s ears, and it made such a pretty picture I couldn’t resist snapping it.

This past week has been the first time this year that I’ve seen butterflies out and about, which is a clear indicator that temperatures are on the rise and that summer is just around the corner, though of course there will still be a danger of frost in this area until mid May, so I won’t be putting any tender plants out just yet!


Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’

One of the most welcome sights in my spring garden each year is the return of my pulmonarias, particularly ‘Blue Ensign’, which I’ve been growing now for about a decade.

I have yet to capture an image of its true colour, but this is as close as I’ve come:



Pulmonaria species flowers are generally a mid-violet-blue colour, but those of ‘Blue Ensign’ are a significantly richer, deeper blue, almost electric blue in some lighting conditions. This cultivar also stands out from the crowd in that it has plain, dark green leaves with none of the characteristic white spotting that one associates with the genus.

Growing it couldn’t be easier provided you have a moisture-retentive soil and a sufficiently damp place in partial shade. Pulmonarias do not take kindly to being dry at the roots – persistent dryness will leave them vulnerable to mildew – and they will quickly wilt if exposed to too much sun.

Having said that, they can be grown in less than optimal conditions. Mine aren’t ideal, in fact: my soil drains fairly freely and bakes hard in hot weather, and my chosen location for ‘Blue Ensign’ gets midday sun all through the summer, but it seems to tolerate these adversities reasonably well as long as I remember to water it from time to time.

One objection that people may have to pulmonarias is that they can be rampant self-seeders, but I haven’t noticed ‘Blue Ensign’ being a problem in that way. It doesn’t seem to spread much either, although that may be because it isn’t entirely happy with its location.

All in all, if you’re after a small, clump-forming perennial to inject a splash of vibrant blue into your shady spring borders and provide a valuable early season nectar source for bees, I’d say you can’t go far wrong with this one.


Counting the Cost of Winter

Every Spring it’s about now that I start looking around to see what has and hasn’t made it through the winter season.

Last year was exceptionally mild, so mild in fact that my non-hardy fuchsias in containers not only survived but didn’t even drop their leaves, which is a first for me in this garden. I didn’t lose a single plant, as far as I can recall.

This year was a more typical Southern British winter in respect of temperature with many nights touching or dipping below freezing, so for the past few weeks I have been casting anxious eyes at my newer and as yet untested-for-hardiness acquisitions to glimpse signs of re-emergence.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the plant I was perhaps most concerned about was Agastache “Blue Boa”. I have grown agastache from seed in the past but never had it survive a winter outdoors; “Blue Boa”, however, is clearly made from sterner stuff and is already sending up some sturdy little shoots. Not only that, but a couple of insurance cuttings that I took late last summer in order to hedge my bets also appear to have survived the winter in my coldframe, so that’s a bonus!

Next on the will-it-get-hit list was my collection of alstroemeria. I bought them early in 2013 so their first winter was no test at all: this year they have had to contend with protracted periods of freezing, but from the looks of the fresh green shoots that I am beginning to see pushing up through the mulch, they have passed with flying colours. All five varieties, the two in containers and the three in the ground, appear to be present and correct, so I am mightily chuffed at that!

It hasn’t all been good news, though.

As ever, I have lost a few things that were over-wintering in my coldframe, namely half of my rosemary cuttings, 3 or 4 lavender cuttings and my orange-flowered diascia cuttings (all the pink-flowered ones survived, strangely enough!).

And once again I have failed with my begonia tubers: only 2 out of the 6 that I attempted to save show signs of life. Whether I left them outside too long, kept them too damp, too dry, too warm or too cold I just don’t know, but they were mostly rotten when I came to examine them in late January and have had to be replaced. Better luck next year, I suppose!

Early Spring – tasks outside

Spring is well and truly here according to the calendar, but I can’t say that it really feels like it in my garden.

I have some miniature narcissi in bloom, along with one or two clusters of pulmonaria and a couple of chaenomeles flowers, but that’s pretty much it at the moment:


Oh, apart from my primula that I divided into three last year – that seems to have been flowering on and off all winter, much to my delight, and is now shaping up for a proper springtime effort:


It looks like I will be able to divide these two plants again: the one on the left appears to have 3 potential crowns and the one on the right  has at least two, so if that proves to be the case, come next spring I should have made six plants from my original one and will probably start planting a few more in the ground (I’ve already put one in, as seen in the first picture).

So, there may not be a great deal to admire at the moment, but there is certainly lots to do!

Since I last posted I have been busy reorganising my borders, digging up and dividing many of my perennials and using that as an opportunity to incorporate a hearty dose of well-rotted horse manure. My soil is medium-heavy and not particularly well-drained in some places, so whilst I am happy in most years to simply throw a surface mulch around the plants and let the worms do the work of dragging it down, I do feel an occasional deep-ish cultivation and addition of organic matter is necessary to perk things up.

I’ve also been planting out some of the phlox that I bought as small bare-root specimens a while back. At the time they arrived I judged them to be too small to be thrown straight into the ground and allowed to take their chances amongst the established plants, so I potted them up into a 12″ planter of multi-purpose compost and spent last year cosseting them into much beefier fellows that now look eminently robust enough to fight their corner.

It might seem odd to buy perennials bare-root then spend time and money containerising them for a season, but I’ve found over the years that I lose a lot fewer plants that way. In my experience it’s far too easy, even in a small garden, to plant those small pieces of dormant crown typically supplied by post and accidentally leave them to get swallowed up by their neighbours or gobbled by slugs and snails; growing them on in large pots means that I can nurture them in a much better-controlled environment until I feel they’re ready for the rough and tumble of border life.

I’m still in the process of dealing with my plants in pots, namely my patio clematis and hostas, which I like to re-pot into fresh compost every 2 or 3 years, and, in the case of the hostas, divide up and discard the older woodier centres. Both will soon need their tender new growth protecting from slugs and snails, so I shall be ready with the organic slug pellets as soon as I am suspicious of any activity.

One last thing I want to mention is a new acquisition from late last summer, Agastache “Blue Boa”. Not knowing how hardy it might be, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it over winter, so I left it in its pot of multi-purpose compost tucked up against my south-facing fence and basically crossed my fingers! Seems I got away with it:


We had quite a few nights this winter where the temperatures went down to -5C (unlike the previous winter when we scarcely even had a frost!) so it’s clearly capable of surviving a bit of a freeze. Being in free-draining compost in a container may have helped too as it probably doesn’t like “wet feet” during cold weather.

All in all, things are moving along nicely and I’m enjoying the feeling of easing my way into the gardening year – time enough to panic when all my plug plants start arriving next month…