The Orange Tip

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Tag: gardener

Stag Beetle

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Coming in from the garden this evening I was amazed to find a stag beetle upside down on my shed desk, legs in the air and struggling to right itself. Though it does suggest I probably ought to clean the place a little more often, I’m pretty pleased to have been sharing dwellings with an endangered species.

Having said this, I’ve no doubt the monstrous beetle wandered in at some point fairly recently; most likely from the large wood pile just by the shed. I stacked the logs during my first Winter at the garden when erecting my firewood log-store, the idea being to slowly work through the wood (left from the initial tree-thinning during the garden landscaping), splitting it to dry out. As it happened I vastly misjudged the amount of wood to get through, and the store filled up before I’d even got through 10% of the logs. Therefore the pile has remained more or less left to its own devices for 3 years.

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The other week I saw the tail of a grass snake slip away down through a gap in the stumps, and last year hornets chose a hollow within the logs for their nest. Wrens dart about the pile daily; I often watch them from my desk, speeding from log to log, scouring for insects. This year a pair made their nest at the base of the stack, under a discarded railway sleeper. In fact for such a dim and seemingly stark element in the garden, there’s no greater source of diverse wildlife on the property; a rival even (in conservational terms) perhaps to the pond, although it does support a completely different range of habitat. So I suppose my message to all wildlife enthusiasts and the conservationally inclined with even the smallest of gardens would be stack yourselves some logs. If you’ve no room for a pond, there’s an equally important and engaging environment to be created, and one that requires far less effort too.

Euphorbia oblongata

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Of the 70-80 annuals sown at the garden each year, a key favourite both of mine and of it’s seed-distributor (Sarah Raven), is Euphorbia oblongata. It’s more of a biennial and occasional short-lived perennial than an annual; sown mid-summer to flower early in the following year.
I use this tough and reliable little plant both in the cutting garden and in the perennial beds; making use of it’s shade-tolerance to brighten up dim stretches of border in the shadow of the house. I can’t really ‘hype’ the plant up enough; on top of all else it holds colour in the vase for well over a week and, due to it’s ferrel origins, mixes just as well with cultivated and wild flowers alike.

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This morning I planted out a row of next year’s champions in the cutting beds.

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Integrated Growing

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After last year’s let down in the cutting garden I have vowed to give it my all during the coming spring and early summer. The failures, of which were many, I put down to a handful of combined problems. We had a warm spring and dim, wet summer; great for the bulbs, but less than ideal for seed grown annuals. I made mistakes also with the preliminary growing stages; not enough room to harden off young seedlings and therefore taking too long to move them from greenhouse (where they put on fast, tall and leggy growth) to ground. My watering regimes were also too sporadic and often too frequent; leading to rotting tubers and damping off of seedlings.

So, this year I am taking the following measures: 1. Careful and detailed approach to watering – making sure not to water when unnecessary. 2. Moving seedlings quickly on through the new cold frames and out into the beds, starting each day with an hour or so in the greenhouse/propagation area. And most importantly, 3. Getting started early. This means making the most of the warm spring rather than depending on a hot and bright summer.

Therefore, for the first time in my three years with the cutting garden, I am sowing annuals into the spaces between the bulbs before they have even begun flowering. In both years past I have waited to get the bulbs out prior to planting in the annual flowers. The flowers were started in the greenhouse and ready to go in by this point (usually around late May to mid June), but they were limited in number according to how many I had been able to store or pot on. They were also at the mercy of a hot greenhouse. This time I have been moving the plants on quickly through the greenhouse, hardening them off in the cold frames and then getting them into the gaps between the bulbs. It has meant paying more attention to the plants in all stages; watching for the signs and adjusting the temperatures in the growing spaces accordingly, but the results should (hopefully) be worth the effort.

I have also begun direct-sowing some of the seeds. So far these have included: Ammi majus, Papaver somniferum, Calendula ‘Indian Prince’, Californian poppy, Nigella, quaking grass (Briza maxima) and cornflowers. I have planted out a first row of Ammi majus seedlings, as well as Cosmos and white Larkspur. Next will be the Cleome followed by Zinnias and Dahlias.

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Unravelled

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Cat’s tails, reed mace, bullrush; something inanely great in knocking a long-hardened winter stem and watching the seeds unravel, disappearing into sunlight.

photographs by Roo Lewis: http://www.roolewis.com

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Honeywort

Although invariably a favourite of every other gardener, Cerinthe has only more recently become a plant I enjoy growing. It takes quite a while to get going and only really fills it’s allotted space by early Autumn, but once it has, the long drooping stems pay back their return in abundance – and make an ideal filler in a cut flower mix. I saved a handful of the last stems before composting the now enormous bulk of Medusa-like clumps. The foliage is very similar to that of the Sedums, the small flowers like comfrey or Pulmonaria.

Bulbs

Reached that time of year again when, irrespective of the weather, I’m doing nothing but planting bulbs. Our annual order arrived last week, containing over 1,000 tulips and around 4,ooo daffodils, as well as a fair handful of others including Muscari, Alliums, Snowdrops, Iris’ and early flowering gladioli. I’ve had a helping hand for a few days with getting the daffs in earlier than the others, most of which are now planted, thankfully. So from now until December I’ll be pushing on with the tulips – getting them lined out in the picking beds and spreading them round the main borders and pots.

Last year’s rough planting plan for bulbs in the picking beds






Summer Escaping

Mulching With Autumn

Right, a rant. But I’ll make it a very small one.. and begin with a positive. There definitely is a change for the better in the way gardening is being approached these days; taking into account again the wider ecologistical (claiming that word for my own) practices that were once routine but long since discarded, and allowing nature to play a larger role in our so often otherwise prescribed and sterile ideas of how a garden should look.

However, having worked in ‘high end’ garden maintenance not so long ago, it seems there is still a common and baffling aversion to allowing leaves to fulfil their intended after-life destiny. Still deemed aesthetically displeasing, so often garden owners and parkland officers want their annual Autumn drop to be hidden, bagged or removed altogether. The result is simply that the same trees that shed them are having to go without their biggest and most essential feed of the year. The ecology is amazingly simple: no longer necessary for photosynthesis during Winter, the leaves are sealed off, die and drop, rotting down back into the ground and releasing nutrients back into the soil, ready for consumption by their creator. It’s one of the fundamental processes that have sustained our woodlands for millennia.

On top of this (or underneath), a huge range of creatures depend on leaf litter for survival, such as beetles, earthworms, hedgehogs and overwintering insects like ladybirds. And if not for any of these reasons, do it for the free mulch! It’ll keep the weeds down, enrich the soil and retain moisture for the dry times.

There we are.

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Holding the Fort

Sedum spectabile

Filed loosely under the title, ‘Herbaceous Perennials’, lined along the rowed troughs of your average plants nursery are an enormous array of tough, prolonged-flowering key border stock. From the early-starting pulmonarias, through mid-Summer leucanthemums all the way to the last of Autumn’s purple aconitum displays, these are the key players that a gardener can rely on, and this year even more so than ever.

Working in a garden that requires a great deal of annuals grown from seed each year in order to fill the cutting beds and border gaps with (among a hundred others) larkspur, zinnias and cleome, a bad year can result in more than just a few less flowers. If sunlight is consistently low, as it has been this Summer, the annuals struggle to get going. Most of my cosmos, for example, are only just now reaching full flower and the sunflowers are a mere 1.5 to 2m tall – miniatures compared with last year.

In fact it’s the later and usually more prominent annuals that have suffered most this year. Those growing from an early (undercover or cloche) sowing were lucky with enough Spring sunshine to give them a good start in life, also making the most of the slug-dormant period. However as the season progressed, the light levels waned, and the later annuals were sowed into gloom.

This is where the trusty perennial falls neatly back into favour. New shoots returning each year from a well-developed underground powerhouse of roots are reliant so much less on what is happening above ground. Even in the worst of Summers, sturdy structures of colour will rise up from those muddy, senesced clumps that have been sleeping dead in the ground all through the Winter. For me these are the dependable backbone of the flower garden.

Aconitum napellus

Salvia uliginosa

Verbena bonariensis with Gaura lindheimeri

Perovskia (although technically somewhere between a shrub and a perennial)