27 March 2016

Dorset Garden Diary - First Outdoor Sowings and the Heron is Back

Good evening everyone,

Happy Easter...I've had a delightful chocolate day! Another productive week in the garden even though I was away for a few days. The weather is starting to warm up and we've had some much needed rain - actually quite a lot over the past couple of days.

We were away from Sunday to Wednesday on an amazing family reunion in the New Forest. The weather stayed kind to us, chilly at night but sunny and dry during the day. When we arrived back on Wednesday, before unpacking it was straight out into the garden to check all was ok, which it was. The bird feeders and bird table needed replenishing and the fish were waiting to be fed. We now have a few different varieties of daffodils/narcissus in the garden

More polyanthus are in flower, these are so pretty

and in the greenhouse the freesias are closer to flowering
and the salvia hot lips has new leaf growth and smells amazing - I wish I could upload the smell for you!
I've been putting both of these outside for a few hours a day to acclimatise them and also the kale and broccoli.

We then went to buy some bags of compost and a couple of growbags. Next on the agenda was next door to collect the seedlings my neighbours have been watering while we were away - and they did a good job:
Above courgettes and sweet peas and below peppers, chillies, tomatoes and pak choi.
And in the propagator the celeriac has finally surfaced
The final job of the day was to take the plastic covering off part of the veg garden as rain was forecast and I wanted the ground to have a good soaking before I sowed seeds. The day ended with a crisp, clear night and an amazing full moon.

Thursday - the clear night was followed by a crisp, clear morning (46F 8C) and the full moon was still visible. Unfortunately the weather soon deteriorated and the rain came in. Today was preparation day for sowing over Easter. But first, I happened to look out one of the back windows and saw the heron standing in next door's pond (hope you can see it).
It was there for quite a while just wandering around. I had to go out to stock up on more bird food and when I came back it was still there. In fact, it spent most of the day there. It's a handsome bird, but not good to have around if you have a pond and I'm hoping it doesn't try and get to our fish. I'm assuming it comes over from the nearby RSPB bird reserve. I put most of the greenhouse plants outside today so they could have a rain shower. Planted out the clematis along the back fence and sowed more basil (the last seeds started to grow then vanished) and watercress seeds from last year's crop.

Friday - 46F 7C clear and sunny and stayed dry and sunny all day...it was definitely t-shirt weather - and probably shorts as well but I didn't want to scare off the sparrows! Today was big outdoor sowing day! But before I started, there were a couple of  indoor jobs to do: I split the coriander plant into two pots, sowed the rest of the sweet peas and some tomato Super Sweet 100 seeds that came free with a magazine. Prior to starting on the outside sowing I drew up a plan of the veg beds and where to plant everything a) for crop rotation to stop disease and b) so I would remember what I've planted and where (always a problem with me!). First to go in were the mixed onions, then the first sowings of: peas (Hurst Green Shaft), chard (Bright Lights), spinach beet, parsnip (Countess F1), beetroot (Detroit 2), carrot (large...honestly, that's what it says on the packet!) and lettuce little gem. I also planted out the broccoli from the greenhouse. I have covered the seeds with perforated polythene a) just in case we have a frost and b) to keep the birds off. Around the edge of one of the veg beds I planted a seed tape of flower that, once grown, are supposed to repel slugs...we'll see. I've left the rest of the veg bed covered in plastic sheeting to keep the soil warm.

Whilst out in the garden the sparrows, blue tits and blackbirds were still feeding and the fish were sunbathing.
There was a huge bee buzzing around the rosemary and campanula and a pale, lime green butterfly. The temperature at lunchtime in the greenhouse was 66F 18C. I watched Gardeners' World thiseveningand it appears I have sown my potatoes incorrectly. I have put eight in a potato bag but you're only supposed to put one for big potatoes or two for smaller (this explains why the crop was small last year) so I have to take them out and replant. Thankfully, they were only the experimental crop.

Saturday - 50F 10C and rain, lots of it. I had to work today and a few minutes before I was due to leave I heard a screeching commotion from the seagulls, looking out I could see them dive bombing the heron which appeared totally unperturbed and still landed in next door's pond. I was a bit concerned it might try and get to our fish and was reluctant to leave for work.

Sunday - dawned bright and sunny and within half an hour it was torrential rain. 45F 7C. Actually, the day wasn't as bad as was forecast, we had quite a few dry spells. First thing this morning I checked the pond, the netting is still in place and the fish have eaten the food although I haven't seen them. Him indoors is back from Berlin today (football trip!)...his to-do list is getting longer!!

I sowed outdoor cucumber/gherkin seeds and cucumber (Passandra F1) greenhouse seeds in the propagator, leeks and beetroot (rainbow beet) in a seed tray in the greenhouse and carrot (Amsterdam 2 amice) in a small trough which I put in the greenhouse. It feels like I'm playing catch-up with the clocks having gone forward. After all this activity the shed has become very untidy and we're only at the start of the season.

This week I harvested the first radishes and there are plenty more ready to pick
and the first carrot has appeared from the plants I rescued from the garden centre last year
 Went out late this afternoon to close the greenhouse door and the freesias have started to open
and the 'For Your Eyes Only' rose has new growth.
I watched Countryfile this evening and we have storm Katie coming in overnight and tomorrow, then it looks like a promising week ahead so hopefully I can make more progress in the garden. I hope you all have a good week, it's going to be nice having the extra hour of light in the evenings.
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20 March 2016

Dorset Garden Diary - New Growth and Frog Spawn...It's Getting Exciting!

Hi everyone,

Well, the weather forecast was correct and it's been a lovely week for gardening, although there was a chilly wind at times, but the sun has been shining. I hope it has where you are and you've also managed to get out in the garden.

Monday - a glorious sunny day, started chilly at 40F 4C but warmed up nicely later. I was out for most of the day, when I came home the pak choi had nearly doubled in size, the zinnias had broken through, so had one green chilli and three of the sweet peas.

Tuesday - another chilly start, 40F 4C and sunny. A few of the Chinese leaves seedlings are coming through and the tomato plants have put on a spurt...exciting. Had to go out first thing so quickly fed the birds. When I came back I did a recce of the garden and there is one (only one in the whole garden) tulip in bloom, two tiny viola (so delicate).

The Echinacea are emerging in their over-wintering pot near the greenhouse and in the greenhouse, the acer tree has plenty of new leaves

the garlic is coming on well and hopefully will remain disease free this year

 and the freesias are close to flowering

The lemon is still growing, albeit slowly, but looking good.

 But the big excitement of the day is...frog spawn in the pond overnight!

The adult fish were near the surface in the warmth for a few hours today:

As I was watching them there was a big splash and a quick glimpse of a frog, far too quick to get a pic unfortunately.

I pulled out the dead growth from around the bluebells in the shade garden. One of my projects this year is to get it all tidied up and plant more flowers, as this is one part of the garden I haven't tackled yet.

I re-potted the pak choi into pots ready to go into the greenhouse, hopefully at Easter if the nights are a bit warmer. I wasn't going to plant out the potatoes and onions until Easter but I couldn't wait any longer. I planted some small potatoes that had started chitting from a bag I had bought from the supermarket earlier in the year, I have no idea what they are or if they will grow so watch this space; and I planted pink-fleshed shallots (Longue) Jermon. I will plant the rest next week.

Around 10pm this evening I heard a sort of low growling/snuffling noise coming from the patio which took me by surprise. I'm presuming, hoping, it was a hedgehog. Definitely not a badger as there are no big holes under the fences.

Wednesday - cold this morning with an amazing sunrise (38F 3C) and there was an equally amazing sunset this evening. Unfortunately I was unable to get any gardening done today but I did check all was ok and fed the birds. The adjustment to the bird table appears to be working, the pigeons now stand under the table waiting for any scraps to fall their way.

Thursday - another spectacular sunrise this morning - pinks and golds - and not quite as cold (42F 5C), but there was a bitter east wind. The sparrows and blue tits were in abundance this morning and a blackbird was sat in the middle of the bird table for ages. I had to go out for a couple of hours in the morning and when I came back...hello courgettes and hello sweet peas!

I re-potted the tomato plants and pepper seedlings and left them in the house until this cold snap clears. I switched on the pond pump for a couple of hours, the fish were lazily floating near the surface (alive I hasten to add!). I bought some potato fertiliser while I was out so I mixed a couple of handfuls with compost and put on the potatoes I've planted. At midday today the temperature in the greenhouse was 70F 21C! I've been leaving the door half open for a few hours each day this week to cool it down. Another stunning sunset.

Friday - and yet another glorious sunrise, very cold with a ground frost (36F 2C).

There was a lot of bird activity this morning and a robin visited the bird table -makes a change from the blackbirds. And look how much the courgettes have grown overnight plus the gherkins have appeared, so potting them up was my first job of the day.
The zinnia have also put on a spurt so I've re-potted them as well. It's all starting to happen - exciting!

I've been hoping more frog spawn would appear as we had three large clumps of it last year - maybe the resident frogs are being territorial. I watered the greenhouse and I had to water the outside pots as they were all dry. Surprising how quickly they dry out after a week of no rain.

Saturday - another cold start (38F 3C), dull this morning with a chilly wind. I re-stocked the bird food and didn't feed the fish as it was too cold. I watered the potatoes which I'd forgotten about yesterday, gave them a good soaking. I won't be out in the garden this weekend as we have an important family reunion to keep us busy so I double-checked that all was well and nothing had appeared overnight that needed potting up.

Sunday - another cold, dull morning (41F 5C), hopefully it might clear up a bit during the day. The weather forecast looks good for most of next week, getting a bit warmer tomorrow and Tuesday and some much needed rain coming in Wednesday night, which means no frost so looking good for planting out over Easter weekend. Not only am I looking forward to getting the outside sowing underway but also being back on the chocolate next weekend!

Have a good week and enjoy the rest of your weekend.



13 March 2016

Dorset Garden Diary - Sowing, Tidying and Fussy Blackbirds

Good evening everyone,

I hope you've all had a chance to get out in the garden this week. Apart from one day, it's been a perfect gardening week here in Dorset and I've taken full advantage of it.

Monday - it was frosty this morning, the early temperature was 35C 1F but this didn't deter the blackbirds from squabbling and hogging the bird table. I made up some more food with bread, bird seed, sunflower hearts and lard then I spent a couple of hours sowing seeds...very therapeutic:- pak choi, winter squash, okahijiki (Chinese leaves), tree spinach (chenopodium giganteum), courgettes (courcourzelle), gherkin diamant F1 hybrid, celeriac monarch, rock samphire (arithmum moritumum), some more sweet pea mixed scent (as you know, I did a sweet pea sowing in November. I will compare the plants to see which flowers best), marigolds from last year's flowers, quaking grass, verbascum mixed, ragged robin (good for butterflies) and zinnia hot mix. These are all in pots and shallow trays in the house until they start to grow, as the greenhouse isn't heated and it's still cold at nights.

Last year I sowed too much of each veg so I've tried to not sow as much this year, which is difficult for me because I find it addictive!

Tuesday - a very frosty start to the day, 35C 1F again. Both bird baths were frozen but thankfully not
the pond; the daffodils suffered though.
It was a strange frost because it didn't catch everything in the garden, just intermittent patches. I spray-misted the seed pots and trays then fed the birds (too cold to feed the fish). The blackbirds were chasing each other around the base of the bird table. That was all I had time for as I was going to work. It was a lovely day and warmed up a little but started to deteriorate towards the evening, with the wind picking up.

Wednesday - atrocious weather came in overnight, high winds and lashing rain buffeting everything. I was anxious to get home in the evening to check there was no damage...thankfully, there wasn't. The wind had been coming from a north-easterly direction and the garden is protected from that side.

Thursday - much warmer this morning and no frost 40C 4F. I fed the fish, topped up the seed feeder and bird table. I've bought another seed feeder as the sparrows and blue tits quickly emptied just one. I tidied up the twig debris from the strong winds then sprinkled mixed perennials, flax and poppy seeds on the flower bed where the miniature pond is. I've scattered them in and around the hellebores and anemone which, in the summer, spread across the bed. I'm hoping the seeds will grow and flower in between. The next job was cutting back the dead growth on the strawberry plants and re-potting them into a hanging basket, a very time-consuming job. I lined the hanging basket with moss from the garden and put some shallow-rooted rockery plants on the top. Hopefully the strawberries will trail down.

Friday - today started dull and cold 6C 43F, then developed into a lovely balmy day. The blue tits were active early morning flying in and out of their nesting box with bedding material. Him indoors is now semi-mobile so he made a start on the list of jobs to be done that I've been saving up for him! Firstly, he took the small table and chairs from the top shed and put them by the pond; then he cleaned the pond pump and checked it was working properly. He then removed half of the pond weed - I don't know what it's called but it provides cover for the fish and oxygenates the water.

The fish were on the surface for much of the day, some of them are getting quite big now.

I pruned back the perennials that are in the pots near the patio area as new shoots and leaves are starting to appear. I was wondering what to do about the ornamental grasses, whether I should cut them back or not, I decided to leave it for now. That evening we watched Gardeners' World and the first job on Monty's list was cutting back ornamental grasses...no such thing as coincidence! So...if the grasses are deciduous then all the old growth should be cut back to the roots but if they are evergreen then pull out the dead leaves and shoots with your hands (but don't do this with pampas grass unless you have thick gloves on as the leaves are sharp). Other jobs for the weekend were cover the soil on the vegetable beds to warm them up for planting - already done. Prune back buddleia - already done.

Saturday -another frosty night 36C 2F but by 8.30am the frost had gone and the warmth of the sun was coming through nicely; crystal clear blue sky for most of the day. By 11.30am the temperature in the greenhouse was 63F 17C. It was another productive day in the garden. Him indoors spent quite a bit of time getting the pressure right on the pond pump as the water was falling too heavily into the pond. He then put all the weed he'd removed yesterday in the back compost bin, We always leave any weed we remove from the pond on the edge so if anything is caught up in it, it can get back into the water. His next job was to make an adjustment to the base of the bird table to try and stop the larger birds (pigeons etc) being able to grip the edge and eat all the food.

When I made up the bird food on Monday, instead of using wholemeal bread (which I normally use) I used white bread. Well, it appears that the blackbirds prefer wholemeal as hardly any of the white bread has been eaten - they are obviously health conscious! Him indoors also put up the frames ready for the peas and runner beans...he's done a good job and lovely blue sky:
No sign of the fish today, probably sulking because we've messed with their pond. This year there are celandines flowering by the pond, they weren't there last year:

We both had a couple of senior moments today. Him indoors inadvertently threw away a container with the garden rubbish and had to go and retrieve it, then, when he was adjusting the pond pump he broke one of the sails off the windmill at the edge of the pond:

I was emptying a big bag of bird seed into a large container, missed and poured it onto the pottering shed floor then later I was weeding the cottage garden ready for more plants

and I had an old washing up bowl next to me to put the weeds in. I started daydreaming, then realised I'd been throwing the weeds into the birdbath so I had to empty, clean and refill it! I also had to put some of the gravel back onto the path as the birds have been flicking it into the soil.

I planted the redcurrant bush.

There are new buds on the quince tree:
And the daffodils have recovered from the frost:

I re-potted the cuttings I'd taken of salvia hot lips, blackcurrant sage and parsley, then watered all of the pots in the garden and the greenhouse as they were looking dry. The parsnip seeds have started to emerge:

And the pak choi I planted on Monday have taken me by surprise, this is five days from sowing:

There was a spectacular watery sunset this evening before thick fog descended.

Sunday - misty morning 4C 40Fand a chill wind. I fed the birds and the fish were swimming near the surface, so we've been forgiven. Tested the pond pump and the flow is fine. Him indoors gave the lawn it's first cut on a high setting..looking good:

Watched Countryfile this evening, as always, and the weather for the week ahead is dry, a chilly wind and frosty nights. I'm happy with that. Feeling pleasantly shattered this evening from the fresh air and my exertions in the garden. Have an enjoyable week, hope you can get out in the garden and catch up next Sunday.



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6 March 2016

Dorset Garden Diary - Digging, Weeding, Cheeky Pigeon and Great to be out in the Garden Again

Evening Everyone,

I hope you've all had a good week and kept warm. At last, I've had time to get stuck into some gardening this week. The weather has been cold so it's been bracing out there, but I soon warmed up with all the digging.

Tuesday - yesterday was cold but not frosty, 3C (37F) and sunny. This morning it was 10C (50F) and wet. The fish were visible so I fed them then fed the birds. I bought some dried mealworm to mix in with the seed. I know they're dead but I could've sworn they were moving. I had to put gloves on because I can't touch them! There was pair of blackbirds and a robin waiting patiently. Later in the day I saw a pigeon trying to balance on the edge of the robin feeder. It was putting one wing through a gap in the cover to flick the food towards it. Well, 10 out of 10 for ingenuity - it deserved it's reward...but I won't be beaten! It was very windy late afternoon and turned very cold. Saw this bee sheltering on a side wall away from the wind - not sure what type it is.

I had all good intentions of doing more digging today but I didn't quite get round to it - well, it was cold this afternoon!

Wednesday - the day started cold, extremely windy and sunny at 6.45am. By 8.30am it had started to cloud over and by 10am we had hail and snow (storm Jake). It only lasted about 10 mins but it was very intense.

It was bitterly cold in the wind so in the afternoon I once again postponed the digging and instead potted up the chilli and tomato seedlings that have grown and transferred the kale, broccoli and clematis pots to the greenhouse as to harden up.

Thursday - cold and dry but no wind. I had big plans for today. First I fed the birds - the sparrows and blue tits had an early breakfast this morning. I then decided to try and outwit the pigeons by rigging up the robin feeder so they can't get their wings through - new improved version exhibit A.

I then decided that I needed to do something more with the bird table just in case the pigeons had a cunning plan to get on their as well so I put some more string around the feeding area just above the original wire. Later in the day I noticed a dove clinging on to the edge of the bird table and feeding. As a friend suggested, I need to make the feeding base of the table deeper so they can't get a grip. But...doves are so nice!

Next job on the list was to finish spiking the lawn, by this time the day was warming up and so was I. The temperature in the greenhouse at midday was 18C (66F). I left the greenhouse door open for a couple of hours to cool it down a bit as it was quite humid and not good for the plants (too much change in temperature) as a cold night was forecast. After I'd finished the lawn I noticed that the miniature pond was looking a bit murky and had algae around the edges so I cleared it all out making sure I didn't disturb any inhabitants then topped it up with rain water. Some of the fish in the main pond were enjoying the balmy day so I fed them.

Interesting to see that some of last year's fishlings are starting to mature and turn orange.

Next on the agenda was the small bed at the back of the greenhouse near the pond. I started digging it over and removing the weeds and came across three spring onions. Before and after pics:

As I was walking back to the pottering shed I noticed some bubbles on the surface of the pond. I peered into the water and a frog (or toad), greyish in colour and about the size of my palm, lazily swam down into the water, back legs kicking. I suspect the fish will be inundated with frog spawn anytime soon. Reluctant to stop working I decided to start digging over and weeding the top bed near the back fence. This is overgrown and raspberry runners (roots) are everywhere, so it was quite time consuming.

It's also near the seed feeder and the sparrows were very vocal in their indignation that I was stopping them from feeding. I did about a third of it.

I don't know if you remember but late last year I received a delivery of 48 ground cover plants that I had to pot up because I hadn't decided where I wanted them to go. I labelled everything and drew a diagram so that I would know what was what. Then I had to move the troughs near the greenhouse because the birds kept pulling them up. 

I've checked on them periodically through the winter and they are doing fine. I checked on them again today. Problem. The winter weather has eroded the writing on the plant labelling sticks. I still have the plan but there is more than one variety in each trough. I recognise some of them (yes, I know where the carrots are!) but the others, well, I'll just have to plant them and see what happens. Best laid plans and all that...I thought I was being very efficient.

Friday - another cold day but not frosty and no wind. Fed the birds - the sparrows and blue tits are getting through a feeder a day. The sweet mini peppers that I am tying to grow from saved seeds are coming along nicely

and in the greenhouse the parsnip seeds are just pushing through but a bit too small to photograph yet. The three parsnip tops I saved and planted are also doing well, I will plant them out soon. The azalea cutting had grown quite big so that's now been re-potted. I am pleased with this. Not sure if you remember but I broke off a bit of twig re-potting the mature plant.
Now, I've always thought that plants should be re-potted into much bigger pots but apparently you only need to go up one size, about half an inch or so all round. I finished digging and weeding the back bed - I can actually see what's in there now, and I cut back the dead growth on the lemon balm.
It's going to need compost digging into it as the soil is mainly clay and very lumpy and heavy. I removed the cover I had put over the rhubarb to 'force it' and nothing is happening. Either I put the cover in the wrong place (quite possible) or the force is not with me on this occasion.

On a roll now, the next job was to tidy up the bed where the miniature pond is. I stripped back the dead growth and dug over the soil. I have left the far corner where leaves have congregated in case there is something still hibernating in there.

I went shopping this morning for yet more bird food and I bought some robin food ' insect medley' yum yum yuk urgh!
Growth starting to appear since last week are poppies, giant alliums, aquilegia, potentilla, a couple of wallflowers that don't normally flower until April and the rose. And this tiny anemone has spread and bloomed - so exquisite:

So, it's been a productive week. The only thing I haven't done on my list is to make headway into seed sowing but I'll make a start on that next week. I watched Gardeners' World this evening (glad it's back!) and jobs to do this weekend/next week are cut back the autumn raspberries and the late flowering clematis.

Saturday - cold and sunny out the front, cold and dark clouds out the back,2C 35F. I had to work all weekend so I watered the greenhouse and fed the birds...it was too cold to feed the fish.The blackbirds were up early feeding from the bird table, one female blackbird was sat right in the middle hogging all the food. I could see a couple of birds on the back fence but couldn't make out what they were so I fetched the binoculars and it was a male and female robin. The male was doing his courting dance and singing, the female playing hard to get. It was fascinating to watch, and not just by me - the audience of sparrows were enjoying every minute!

Sunday - home while it was still light and did a recce of the garden, all is well. I watched Countryfile this evening and the week starts off icy and cold but gets warmer as the week progresses so looks like it could be a good week for gardening fingers crossed.

I hope the weather will be kind for gardening wherever you are. Have a good and safe week and catch up next Sunday.



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