After last week looking at ferns I promised to return to flowers and I have a spectacular collection this week. The tulips are reaching their peak with just a few more tulips to come over the next month or so. I am not a fan of the standard goblet tulips or a lot of the more common colours. I can appreciate them but I’m not that bothered for growing them myself. So over the last few years, I’ve branched off into other forms and come to see them as part of Spring. 1. Dolls Minuet
The dolls minuet tulips are a new introduction this year. I’m very happy with these. They have proved to be good through different phases. Starting as a tightly twisted coil. Then opening into sprawling curled petals. These are lovely short bright tulips. A winner for me.
2. Rococo parrot
I’ve grown black parrots the last two years and really loved them so I thought I’d try a different parrot. Here they are with the previously featured tulip tres chic. The tres chic have gone through a tall elegant phase opening into nice pointed stars. The combination looks a bit messy up close but looks pretty good together from the house.
I’m not show about the rococo tulips if they are a beauty or a beast but they’ve had a lot of comments from visitors and been incredibly popular on Twitter. The colours are certainly striking. I think I like them as a tight bud more than as a sprawling open mess.
3. Queen of the nights
Queen of the nights have featured on a mass number of six on Saturday posts the last few weeks. But they are a beautiful tulip. The lovely dark colour combines well with many plants. Mine is rising out of forget-me-nots and combined with the bleeding heart. A reliable choice.
4. Red Riding Hood
The red riding hood tulips are one of the brightest red I’ve grown. They have wonderful stripey foliage. They’ve been in pots three years and I think are starting to lose their rigour. Only one has come up so far but it is a bright flame in the border.
5. Forgotten tulip-alectric
These were a Tesco bargain bought towards the end of the season a few years ago. I think I bought one box then another when it got late on in Autumn and they were down to clearance prices. They were devastated by slugs the first year but have come back much stronger this year. I had partially forgotten these were in the border but they are another nice pairing with the forget-me-not carpet.
And now for a break from the tulips. The borage has its first flowers and they’ve come out white this year. The borage self-seeds around and I let a handful stay. It is great for the bees and the flowers are edible an can be used for cake decoration. Not that I’ve ever used them for this purpose.
There are still a couple of tulips still to come. I hope you’ve enjoyed the current offerings. If you fancy taking part in six on Saturday check the founding father’s participant guide. Also, check the Twitter hashtag #SixOnSaturday to see more garden offerings. Enjoy your weekends.
This year is my first year growing dahlias. Through looking at lots of stunning #dahlialove through six on Saturday blogs I decided this year I’d dip my toe in and try and grow some. I’ve got a few tubers hidden away for when the risk of frost has gone and I’m also trying the seed option as well. Dahlias are very tender to frosts so I’ve been trying to time this so they would be viable plants but not put out too early that they would shrivel in the cold.
Now there aren’t many dahlia options that come up reliably looking anything like what they claim to be but Sarah Raven’s Bishops children claim to be a good reliable option. They have dark foliage and then plum, orange or red flowers. While being quite ornamental and good for cut flowers they still have the RHS perfect for pollinators award satisfying my desire to provide for wildlife.
I’m lacking space to grow seeds this year with building work going on so I’m restricted to a few propagators in the spare room. These were sown in a medium sized propagator a few cm apart. At a week in the seeds were going strong with almost 100% germination success. I didn’t expect them to germinate or grow so fast.
We are now a couple of weeks into growing and they’ve been ready to prick out into individual pots. They’ve gone into 10cm pots I found in the shed. While I am cutting the single plastic use down no sense in not using these when they are already there. As already said I am lacking space in the house and as almost every seed germinated I have a lot of dahlia seedlings now. So I am going to trail different options for the seedlings.
I have put a handful back in the propagator they came out of and they have gone back in the spare room with a few grow lights for company. These are not on all the time just a few hours in the evening when I am around to supplement the light. The lid is coming on and off to give them the chance to have air circulation. There is cappilary matting at the bottom to give them a water source.
Then another handful are also sharing the spare room in a really useful box. It was suggested on Twitter that these could be used for propagators and as cold frames. This box is a bit small but it will do to get them established in the 10cm pots.
Then I have a much larger really useful box that is going in and out on the warmer days. As it gets warmer and the risk of frosts at night lowers I may risk leaving them out and start to harden them off to cold.
Then as there were still a couple I had left they have gone in a spare plastic box upside down. As this is an effort to move these are staying outside on top of Alice’s mud kitchen which is currently in the middle of the lawn while building work goes on. I imagine they have lower chances of survival but currently, the weather forecast is good for the next week so we’ll have to see.
So, watch this space to see how the really useful box cold frame works out. If even a handful of these make it to full size I’m going to have a good display of dahlias so fingers crossed. Any advice is greatly received. I’m going back to read Naomi Slade’s wonderful book for what to do next.
This last week has seen me unwrapping my tree fern from its Winter protection and the start of many of the fern fronds unfurling. Fresh fronds in Spring are one of the purest greens in the garden. They are a great joy to watch each year as they uncurl. While I appreciate many people may not share my interest in ferns please have a scroll through to see their different forms. Next week I promise to return to the tulips I’m sure the rest of the garden bloggers will be posting about. So here we have six ferns in the garden.
I’ve just unwrapped my tree fern from its winter covering. Tree ferns are meant to be large majestic showpieces for the garden. Mine is still a runt. It has however survived the winter as it has fresh fronds unfurling. I’m looking at a good many years until it develops its characteristic trunk. James Wong had written about the need for care in April so I’ve given it a good water and going to look at some fertilizer. I bought it last year and it suffered from the drought. I’d like to give it a better start this year.
2. Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Harts tongue’
Hart’s tongue is one of my favourite ferns. For many, it grows like a weed but it is evergreen and with the wider fronds it can survive in pots and in the ground. The fronds on this one are lovely tight spirals uncurling gradually. It adds a nice contrast of shape and texture amongst the other ferns in fern corner. The fronds are wonderful tight hairy coils.
3. Dryopteris Affinis ‘Cristata the King’ Scaly male fern
This is deciduous in my area. In warmer areas, it can remain evergreen. I bought this reduced as it was shrivelled and brown. However, I was confident it would recover with fresh ferns in Spring and I’ve been repaid for my faith. New fronds are coming through so hopefully have a nicely filled out fern again soon. This can grow to heights of a metre but I’ve generally seen it shorter than that but we’ll see as the year goes on.
4. Fern Matteuccia Struthiopteris ‘Ostrich Fern’
I purchased three of these from Sarah Raven. This one is coming up well, the others no sign of life yet. Maybe stick to the flowers from there. More her area of speciality. The ostrich fern is another deciduous fern. I’ve only just started to add deciduous ferns as I mainly bought ferns for that constant evergreen backdrop but I’ve come to appreciate some of the other forms. The change of colour in Autumn provides a different type of interest.
5. Fern plugs
I bought a cheap set of fern plus. I think one is another harts tongue fern, one is looking to holly fern. I need to have a look through the books or wait a bit longer for the others.
I started work on window box planters for the front garden. As we are having fresh render on the house I don’t want to drill into it yet. So these will be raised on stone bricks to height. I’ve done two of these windowboxes planning plants for the shaded conditions. They each have two Asplenium trichomanes ferns. This is a lovely small delicate evergreen fern to give the box some constant interest. Then the shoots you can see are hosta blue mouse ears. This grows with pale glaucous blue leaves to a height of about 10-15cm. Both came through the post from Edrom nurseries and I’m very happy with the state of them. You never know what you’ll get with online purchases but these are great. I’ll look at some Autumn crocus or cyclamen for Autumn interest and snowdrops for late Winter and Spring. It’ll hopefully look nice as it fills out. I’ve never really bothered seriously with window boxes. I’ve always seen them as something terribly old fashioned filled with horrible bedding plants so I’m looking to make something I’m happy with.
I hope my exploration into ferns this week hasn’t bored you all too much. Alice isn’t too interested in the ferns either. She’s been enjoying her hand me down tractor from her cousins and the return of the bubble machine. I promise to give you some flower love next week. The tulips are looking set to hit their stride. The dahlia seedlings are looking ready to pot up.
If you fancy taking part in six on Saturday check out the participant’s guide. Then check out the comments in The Propagators latest six to see other gardeners six. With gardeners contributing from around the world there are lots to enjoy.
I’ve got dahlia seedlings to pot up and a bit ground to attack with the mattock. The weather is supposed to be warmer so I hope you all manage to get out and enjoy yourselves.
Today I came across the news story of spikes being placed on a tree in Oxford. I figured straight away that this was probably done to stop bird poo on cars and after watching it saw I was right. This follows on from the story of Norfolk cliffs and hedges being covered in nets. While the bird poo is a pain, my car gets covered in seagull poo, it seems bizarre to cover the trees natural beauty and prevent wildlife using its natural resource.
Walking through the park today I stopped to admire the life on one tree. The weather was warm today but this tree was literally humming with activity. Blackbirds and sparrow were flying in and out the up story and a few butterflies were hovering around but too high up for photos.
The bees and hoverflies were swarming all over. I couldn’t track the numbers out today.
The ladybirds were out in force.
The understory providing space for more plants to grow.
The shade providing flowers with the conditions they need.
Who wouldn’t want to enjoy this beauty? The amount of life supported on one tree is amazing. Why would we think we can improve on nature? I’ll leave you with a quote from someone smarter than me.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
The RSPB are looking to draw attention to nature. 165 species are critically endangered not to mention those whose numbers have just dropped. They are aiming to get bird song into the music charts to show support for protecting and helping nature. Let Nature Sing is set to be released on the 26th May with purchases up to the 2nd of May counting towards that weeks chart figures.
As a download it only costs 99p and there isn’t much you can do with 99p these days. For 99p you can show support for nature at a time when it is most needed. You can also show support on social media with the hashtag #LetNatureSing If we don’t protect nature now we may no longer be able to enjoy simple pleasures such as the dawn chorus.
Please support and share your support through your social media of choice.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a run of photos on Twitter and Facebook of broken spades. People have tried using their garden spades to dig out established shrubs and trees or trying to break up hard landscaping. These were all cases of people using the wrong tool for the wrong job.
As mentioned in previous blogs I have lots of building work going on and I am having to remove a number of established shrubs to accommodate the changes. One of the hardest jobs has been removing the hebes from the front garden. I think these have been growing there for about a decade and were starting to die off and no longer flower. The ground was a solid mass of roots. There was almost no soil between the roots to depths of four to six inches. I removed the first one with shovel, loopers and weeding knife. While this got the plant out I knew these were the wrong tools for the job. I figured an axe might be a better tool for the job so did a bit of research and discovered the mattock. I asked around to see if anyone had one I could borrow for the job and had no luck. Pretty much no one even knew what a mattock is. This seems a great pity for such a useful versatile tool.
The term mattock is sometimes used interchangeably with a pickaxe. However, they are different tools. A mattock is a tool with a long handle and metal head. The head has two sides. On one side a narrow axe, then on the other an adze (a horizontal axe blade). The handle is usually wood or fibreglass. The axe head is not fixed on. It can be dismantled for transport. To put the head on it is slid down the handle. Then tapping the handle into a firm surface allows the weight of the head to secure it onto the handle. As such it isn’t designed to be swung up high as the blade can become loose. The mattock is lifted to just above waist height and the weight does much of the digging. The axe can smash apart roots. Then the adze can be used to scrape through. It works through mats of root and sod more easily than the shovel could. The weight adds force you would struggle to deliver with a spade even pushing with your foot. While still a hefty tool to use it is going to prove useful in my front garden where I have solid soil to break it up. This isn’t suitable for breaking up rock, a pickaxe would need using for that. But my ground is just compressed soil with lots of thick roots through.
Evidence for mattocks goes back to the Mesolithic period with mattocks made of antler. By the Bronze Age the mattock design we still use had been established. They have also been used to strip blubber from whales by the Inuit people and the Broch people in Scotland. It was used in agriculture to make planting trenches. Specific forms have been developed for different jobs such as the hop mattock with two forks instead of the axe. The shorter Japanese Ikagata has the same basic adze side combined with a three-pronged fork used for weeding. But the basic design of the mattock has remained the same signalling that this is a useful tool.
Within Sumerian mythology the God Enlil created the mattock to give to the humans. It is described as an object of beauty made of pure gold and a head made from lapis lazuli. The tool gives the Sumerians the power to build their cities, subjugate the people and take up weeds. Enlil is an important God within Sumerian mythology separating Earth and Heaven making the world habitable for humans. He is seen as a patron god of agriculture. It’s interesting to read about a tool like this in mythology which has lost its significance in the modern world. But for much of human history, this tool has proved invaluable in digging the earth.
My mattock finished off the remaining four hebes in an afternoon. It had taken me an afternoon to remove one without. Whether it is a tool of the gods or not it has proved worth its cost. This might not be a tool you are going to use regularly but it will save time when it is employed for the right job. Which I suppose you can say about any garden tool. But it seems worth saving the lives of all those broken spades and forks and recommending you get a mattock for the serious business of removing roots.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my shout out for this humble and almost forgotten tool. In a day and age where most families will only have a spade, maybe a fork and a hand trowel it is worth looking back to think if you are using the right tool for the job. Is it worth struggling on or go and spend a tenner on a tool that will save you time and stress using the wrong tool? I know I’m thankful I bought my mattock.
In the sweet shire of Cardigan,
Not far from pleasant Ivor-hall,
An Old Man dwells, a little man,
I’ve heard he once was tall.
Of years he has upon his back,
No doubt, a burthen weighty;
He says he is three score and ten,
But others say he’s eighty.
A long blue livery-coat has he,
That’s fair behind, and fair before;
Yet, meet him where you will, you see
At once that he is poor.
Full five-and-twenty years he lived
A running Huntsman merry;
And, though he has but one eye left,
His cheek is like a cherry.
No man like him the horn could sound,
And no man was so full of glee;
To say the least, four counties round
Had heard of Simon Lee;
His Master’s dead, and no one now
Dwells in the hall of Ivor;
Men, Dogs, and Horses, all are dead;
He is the sole survivor.
And he is lean and he is sick,
His dwindled body’s half awry;
His ancles, too, are swoln and thick;
His legs are thin and dry.
When he was young he little knew
Of husbandry or tillage;
And now is forced to work, though weak,
—The weakest in the village.
He all the country could outrun,
Could leave both man and horse behind;
And often, ere the race was done,
He reeled and was stone-blind.
And still there’s something in the world
At which his heart rejoices;
For when the chiming hounds are out,
He dearly loves their voices!
His hunting feats have him bereft
Of his right eye, as you may see:
And then, what limbs those feats have left
To poor old Simon Lee!
He has no son, he has no child,
His Wife, an aged woman,
Lives with him, near the waterfall,
Upon the village Common.
Old Ruth works out of doors with him,
And does what Simon cannot do;
For she, not over stout of limb,
Is stouter of the two.
And, though you with your utmost skill
From labour could not wean them,
Alas! ’tis very little, all
Which they can do between them.
Beside their moss-grown hut of clay,
Not twenty paces from the door,
A scrap of land they have, but they
Are poorest of the poor.
This scrap of land he from the heath
Enclosed when he was stronger;
But what avails the land to them,
Which they can till no longer?
Few months of life has he in store,
As he to you will tell,
For still, the more he works, the more
Do his weak ancles swell.
My gentle Reader, I perceive
How patiently you’ve waited,
And I’m afraid that you expect
Some tale will be related.
O Reader! had you in your mind
Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O gentle Reader! you would find
A tale in every thing.
What more I have to say is short,
I hope you’ll kindly take it:
It is no tale; but, should you think,
Perhaps a tale you’ll make it.
One summer-day I chanced to see
This Old Man doing all he could
To unearth the root of an old tree,
A stump of rotten wood.
The mattock tottered in his hand;
So vain was his endeavour
That at the root of the old tree
He might have worked for ever.
“You’re overtasked, good Simon Lee,
Give me your tool,” to him I said;
And at the word right gladly he
Received my proffered aid.
I struck, and with a single blow
The tangled root I severed,
At which the poor Old Man so long
And vainly had endeavoured.
The tears into his eyes were brought,
And thanks and praises seemed to run
So fast out of his heart, I thought
They never would have done.
—I’ve heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
With coldness still returning.
Alas! the gratitude of men
Has oftener left me mourning.