Garlic update

I have checked daily to see if any garlic is sprouting. First to show through is Solent Wight but within days they are all showing signs of growth. We have had to put a spacer under the netting (in other words an up-turned pot or two) to prevent the new shoots getting tangled in the netting. In another few days I will feel fairly confident about removing the protection so when Mr rabbit comes along he won’t do too much damage.

Meanwhile. in the polytunnel, there is a very strong whiff of garlic. This is where we are trying to ‘cook’ some  bulbs to produce the black garlic. The first two tries were unsuccessful, the bulbs dried out too quickly. Back to the drawing board. One batch is looking quite promising but it is a long process and not one which anyone would want to do at home because of the pungency of the bulbs. As soon as we have some ready to taste we will be offering samples so you can try it for yourselves.

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Over the last three years our sales have dwindled. There have been many plants which haven’t sold leaving me feeling bewildered and uncertain about the future. Watering the same pots day in day out in the summer is demoralising. Normally at this time of year I would be growing and potting plants for the coming season but my level  of enthusiasm was more or less zilch and there seemed little point in continuing to grow plants which may not sell.

I might be getting on in years but I’m not ready to give up and retire. Gardening and producing plants is in my blood and I have no wish to stop doing what is important to me. Luckily my lovely daughter came up with an idea at Christmas which caught my imagination and I’m putting it into action. She asked if I’d ever heard of black garlic? Huh? Since then I’ve ordered some online and sampled it and decided its the thing to go for. I offered some to a number of friends (not one of them has tried it before) and the feedback is very positive. It is slowly (over a number of weeks at a low temperature) cooked. We are trying to work out the best way to achieve this. The first batch dried out but now we have a thermostat so that should help.

The garlic as you know it changes dramatically. It becomes gooey, caramelised and sweet. It can be eaten as a snack without lingering odours on ones breath. It is apparently much sought after. The two prepared bulbs I bought were quite expensive and are not always easily available.

My next step was to order some garlic bulbs to plant. Initially I ordered 7 kilos. Two days later I increased the order to 20 kilos. Topsoil was delivered. So in the last week or so and with some help from Tom we have filled half the sale beds with topsoil and planted all the garlic. We’ve put netting over to stop George using the area for a convenient cat litter tray and to stop the rabbits digging them up. There are 5 or 6 different varieties of garlic. Approximately half are hard neck (so we get the ‘scapes’) and the rest are soft neck. Inevitably there will be weed seeds in the soil but it should be easier to weed than our heavy clay soil.

So, for customers coming this year to buy plants there will be a much reduced selection but there will be a happier nursery owner. Watch this space!

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End of the Year 2016

Guess what? I didn’t work on Christmas day. But I have done something at work on all other days in December whatever the weather. I’ve done a lot of cutting down of the perennials and a lot of plants have been relocated, some to different parts of the garden and some to the bonfire pile. New plants have found their way into new spaces so there will be (hopefully) more cohesion in some of the borders. I’ve realised that I still think like a person with not much space and have tended to plant a single item rather than clumps or (fashionable word) drifts.

Maybe one of the reasons for wanting to do as much as I can right now is that I’m increasingly conscious of my advancing age which in turn means that I can’t do as much as I once could. So it seems wise to do little and often and, anyway, it is winter and we could get some snow which would stop me. Right now though, I am possibly a bit ahead of myself which is and unusual state of affairs.

Speaking of bonfires……it’s one of my favourite things to do and with all the spoil from the garden there has been every excuse to burn it. I’ve even managed to burn a mass of hawthorn trimmings which was quite satisfying. I do wonder how George avoids standing on the thorns.

Buds of chaenomeles and lonicera fragrantissima are poised to open. Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is in full flower despite the frosts. Snowdrops are beginning to peak through and the hellebores will soon follow them.

Winter might not be as colourful as other seasons but there is pleasure to be had from the structure of the plants and shapes of trees. There have been some wonderful sunny days and I often wonder if other people are missing out.

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Digging in November

After all the heavy rain on Monday, I was keen to get into the garden and remove some plants. The first victims were Verbena bonariensis which were/are looking bedraggled and dank. There’s a lot of them and but the end of that session I had pulled out two trolleys worth.

But then I came to a place where some Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ were which had not been happy since being planted about 4 years ago. At the same time I took a dislike to some planting under a rose. The reason this bit of planting wasn’t working is due to the two established clumps of Stachys on either side. So, I dug up the Persicaria and dumped the plants then added some compost before digging up the aster and a ground cover plant to put in the newly created gap. Then I used that gap under the rose to add in more lamb’s ears to make a more continuous line of the same thing. It does look much better.

That was yesterday. Today I started off pulling up more verbena but then got distracted by two things. The first was a miscanthus which has been dwindling for the last few years and looked rather a waste of space. I dug that up and moved a Nandina which is getting a reprieve, just hope it starts to grow well or that will get put on the bonfire. Across the way is a good clump of some sedums. To try to give some balance in that border I dug one plant up, divided it than planted it slightly further along that bed. I’m toying with the idea of removing the solomon’s seal which is in the same bed and putting more sedum there as well. One thing always leads to another…..there was the kniphofia which had couch grass growing in it so I dug that up and teased out the white roots before replanting it. My beady eye caught sight of several bramble seedlings which are now on the bonfire pile.

The days may be short at this time of year but I do like gardening now mainly, I suspect, because I can get my head down and think things through without any interruptions. Who knows what will get dug up tomorrow?

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Inbetween the showers and some dramas regarding our barn re-build I have been working in the garden the last few days. It’s a good time to remove some unwanted plants, this includes clumps which have become too big plus some self-seeded things which suddenly take over when my back is turned. The first thing to get ruthless with is marjoram. I was under the impression that most herbs like dry, sunny conditions but it seems that my marjoram doesn’t read the books because it happily seeds around with little regard for the fact that it is growing on heavy clay soil which is sometimes water-logged. It even puts itself in shady places. Anyway, I’ve dug lots of it out but almost certainly there will be more seeds popping up when I’m not looking.

I had noticed that some self set Acaena had started to colonise two areas. It was weaving through other plants and certain weeds had settled in amongst it. It was impossible to weed the weeds or to partially remove the creeping plant so I’ve had a couple of days of digging as much as possible out. I almost certainly haven’t got it all because it has nestled in the middle of established clumps of other things.

Large clumps of persicaria and aster have been reduced and a different aster has been divided and spread around. This one we have called ‘Pontis Supreme’ which we found growing quite vigorously and is a seedling one. The colour is a strong, rich pink and it is free of mildew. It grows to about 150 cm.  A customer last year noticed it and thinks we may have something special, he took some to be looked at by some experts, all very exciting.

I now have new areas to plant with new plants so my thinking cap is on trying to decide what to use.

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Mid October 2016

Another good weather day for gardening. So, some weeding done, some cutting back and some spreading compost on the bare patches. There were a few interruptions today. People making the most of the fine, sunny day to come along and buy a bargain or two. Our end of season plant sale is in full swing and there are still a lot of reduced plants left. Some of the bamboos are just £5.00 and many other plants are only £2.00. It’s a great time to get new plants into the warm soil which gives them chance to settle in and make some growth before next year. It also means that watering won’t need to be done.

Today there were bees and butterflies on the asters which is so good to see. Some of the roses are still flowering including Rosa Stanwell Perpetual which is always the first to start and the last to finish. The ornamental grasses are at their best right now especially when the low sun shines through them making them shimmer.

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The highs and lows of August Bank Holiday Weekend

What a mixed weekend that was for sure. Saturday’s weather was somewhat different from the forecast. Thunder and lightening and torrential rain for about two hours. The sky was heavy, dark grey and threatening. Hail banged on the shed roof. An inch of rain happened and we were a bit stranded. The puddle by the gate became a pool. And, most annoyingly, I’d persuaded Philip to do the watering in the morning because I was convinced that we would only have light showers.

Sunday was quite different. Quite sunny and pleasantly warm. There were quite a lot of garden visitors all day, many of them stayed to have a cup of tea and bought a few plants. I had a special hour or so with @papaver who I’d communicated with on Facebook and Twitter but it was out first  meeting for real and was most enjoyable. When I emptied the donation box at the end of the day I found my earring which I’d lost in the garden a few days before, so thanks to the mystery person who found it.

Monday was very much quieter, was everyone at the seaside or sitting in traffic somewhere? I got very little done except chat to customers and friends. An added bonus when I extracted the donations was the discovery of a £20 note which some generous person had left, that goes a long way to making me feel that all the human race is good.

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Wind Damage

The weather forecast yesterday was for ‘unseasonably strong winds’. Now I’m good at worrying about anything but high on my list of what can cause me concern is gale force wind. Roughly ten years ago we had been away for a couple of nights and on our way back up the M40 we could tell that it was extremely windy. When we arrived at work we found that three of the four polytunnels had lost their covers. Not blown away into the next county but ripped and flapping and causing a huge amount of damage to the plants which previously were being protected by the covers. The noise of torn polythene flapping in the wind is quite ear shattering. Initially there was not much we could do except cut away some of the long trailing pieces which were sweeping pots, compost and plants backwards and forwards and smashing against each other. And weep….

A new cover was ordered the next day which arrived within the week. The unenviable task of clearing things away, removing the rest of the polythene and preparing to fit the new cover took some considerable time. Then we had to wait for a calm day. The nursery is on an exposed site so patience was required. We lined up some friends to help. The day finally dawned about three weeks later when the conditions were just right and we got started. Unfortunately all the friends were unavailable so we did it ourselves without too much swearing.

I’m reminded of this because yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, at the height of the strong winds, I was explaining to a friend that the covers are vulnerable at such times. As I was speaking and pointing I noticed, to my horror, a tear along one of the hoops. Luckily it was at one end and luckily Philip hadn’t left so he got the ladder out and some sticky tape and patched it up. I’m hoping it will last for a while until we feel strong enough to recover it. The last time this needed doing on one of the other tunnels was just before P started his course of chemotherapy. Some brilliant friends stepped in and did the job for us but unfortunately one of them is not so well at the moment so it looks like we shall have to do it ourselves……and we are now ten years older since we did the last one. Ho hum.

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Early August

Since I last wrote we have been getting some jobs done and we are more or less on top of things. We had the help of the lovely George (no not the cat) who came for a day to help Philip cut the hedges. While they were doing the cutting I had a bonfire to burn a rather large heap of rubbish. We planted a native hedge along the north side of our site in the first winter and then later planted quite a lot of hornbeam hedging which is one of the few plants which make a good hedge in our clay soil.

We also had help from Nick (a friends son) who donned waders and went deep into the pond to clear out a lot of bullrushes which were spreading at an alarming rate. He also went across to the badly neglected island to remove some of the brambles which have got increasingly adventurous and are threatening to take over. Nick didn’t complain once about doing a foul job, the sticky black mud clung tenaciously to everything it came into contact with.

After all the damp cool weather it suddenly went very hot which meant that all we were capable of doing was the daily watering then I slunk in the shade for the rest of the day reading. The garden dried up very quickly and cracks started appearing in the ground. the poor plants started to become a bit shrivelled then luckily we had a downpour one evening with half an inch of rain which made a huge difference plus it meant no watering for a couple of days. I just knew earlier in the year when it was endlessly wet that we’d have a dry spell and would yearn for rain. it has been a maddening year weatherwise but maybe I say that every year.

The garden is full, as always, of verbena bonariensis which attracts the bees and butterflies. Soon the asters will be flowering and it will look different again.

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Is it really summer? Sitting here at 7am looking out at grey skies and damp ground doesn’t fill me with any kind of motivation to get to work and find things to do (there are always things to do but I need some incentive to get on with it). The weather, or maybe the results of the referendum, has caused a big downturn in sales over the last three weeks. Each time I do the watering I’m aware of all the great looking plants which are growing very well but not selling. I really don’t blame amateur gardeners for not wanting to do any work outside at the moment. In fact I have a theory that it’s only when the weather is warm enough in the evenings for people to sit outside and maybe have barbecues that they might feel inclined to make the garden look good.

Another downside to this cool, damp time is that there are very few butterflies so far this year. However there are plenty of ants both in the garden and in the tunnels and at home. They seem to be able to increase at an alarming rate. Very often they make their nests under a clump of Stipa tenuissima but can be found almost anywhere. I’ve started to use a different product which seems to be having some effect in reducing the problem. At work I’ve had to dismantle some 10 litre pots of plants (agapanthus, bamboo and a daisy) because ants had made a nest in them. I do hope I’m not inadvertently selling plants complete with resident ants!

On a positive note to end with though, I must mention how pleased I’ve been with the pinks I bought last year. I took lots of cuttings and have had lots to sell and I’ve also planted out quite a few. There are some old favourites like Mrs Sinkin and Gran’s Favourite but also one called Lily the Pink and Devon Wizard. They all have a delicious scent and it feels somehow self indulgent to pick some and bring home but I do anyway. Which is a timely reminder that the last bunch of flowers I brought home are looking a bit past their best so I shall pick some more today.

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