Six on Saturday: 4.1.20-Six for a New Year

Welcome to a new year of six on Saturday. I made it through the last year and  I think I managed to post each week giving me an amazing record I can look back through. I thoroughly recommend taking part. There is a great community through the blogs and Twitter and I’ve learnt so much. I am still off work currently so I’ve had a productive week tidying the garden and getting a few bits planted. I’ve still got my front garden bin tidy to do, but I’ve made lots of progress in other areas. I’ve also had a tidy of a few of the blog pages and started adding a gardening contents page as I’ve noticed lots of traffic to particular blogs. It needs more work but nice to have quick access to particular blogs I refer back to quite often.

1. Bargain tulips

We popped out a few days ago to the garden centre for a family trip out. The bargain bulb trolley is out now with bulbs reduced to £1 each. So each picked a bag. I thought Amy was going to go for the pheasant’s eye daffodils but she opted for the sealing wax daffodils. I’m not a fan of daffodils as they don’t offer much benefit to wildlife and I’m not a great fan of the colours. Most of the ones we have are wilco’s specials so these will be some of the few I know the names of. Alice went with the Red Riding Hood tulips. I’ve grown these before. They have nice stripy foliage and bright red flowers. The alliums were my choice. Three very tall summer drummers. I had said last week I was done with bulb planting, but what I obviously meant was done until I see a bargain.

Alice helped plant her tulips, then lost interest as the other bulbs aren’t her taste. The crowbar came in use again for making nice targetted holes in the border.

2. Muddy puddle

Then Alice got on with the more important work of making a muddy puddle. She used the rainwater from her mud kitchen to soak a section of the lawn.

The lawn is in a pretty bad condition after builders last year but Alice had fun jumping up and down in her puddle.

3. Homebrew nematodes

This week I had found the book outwitting squirrels was free through Kindle to borrow. The book tackles different ways to tackle different “pests”. On the whole, I let nature take its course and allow the wildlife to find an equilibrium. But I have planted several hostas I would like to protect. In the book, it talks about making your own nematodes. Nematodes are a microscopic worm that preys on slugs and snails. It’s a natural way to keep slug and snails down. It costs about £16 and needs applying about every 6 weeks.  So it is quite a pricey way to combat them. By collecting up slugs and snails in a confined area you can create conditions for nematodes to build. The water at the bottom can then be added to a watering can to add the nematodes into your soil. It is unlikely to be that effective in the cold weather during winter but it’s free for me to try so can’t do any harm. If nothing else I’ve got the kit ready to try again when the seasons change.

A washbasin has been filled with a layer of water, then an island of plant material has been placed on top for the slugs to sit on.

Slug collecting has commenced.

Then the washtub is covered with a tile.

4. Kokedama

Earlier in the week, I’d made a kokedama. It is still sitting looking dumpy but I found a grey saucer which I think suits it better. While I imagine this doesn’t look that amazing to any of you I could see the process of making these being quite addictive. If I had enough materials I could easily encase many more plants in this way. I have one more fern and may dig out some of the ivy seedlings to try wrapping.

5. Fairy house

Yesterday I made Alice another addition to her growing fairy garden. The house has had a chance to dry overnight and I found it a space near the mushrooms put in last week. I think it’s looking quite nice if a bit rustic. Alice wants me to make more so I’m going to need to get the saw back out. Before long we’ll have a whole happy village going on.

6. Burgon & Ball photo competition

And for my final six some exciting news. I won the Burgon & Ball garden photo of the year competition. I will be receiving a lovely bundle of gardening bundles worth a few quid. I had a choice between a garden pack or an allotment pack. The garden pack had some nice secateurs and forks, but as I already own Niwaki secateurs I’ve gone for the allotment options.

Avid Allotmenteer:

So I can add an award-winning photographer to my egotistical over-exaggerated CV along with being a published poet. The photo I entered was one of my favourite dahlia pictures of the year combined with one of my favourite garden insects. I could happily watch the dragonflies for hours. When one landed on the dahlia, my favourite dahlia I grew last year, I went a bit snap happy. But I did get some stunners. So, I’ll be waiting on the postman to deliver me my Burgon & Ball goodies. Then I’ll be itching to get the dahlias started again, but that’s a good few months off despite what Gardener’s World magazine was advising this month.

It’s been a good holiday off and I’ve enjoyed plenty of time with family. Still shaking off my stupid cough, but gradually getting better. I’ve got a little time left to try and get a few more garden jobs done and we’re planning to get out for my dad’s birthday today and another walk on the beach. Enjoy your weekends. I hope the start of the year has been gentle to those who have returned to work.

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12 Days of Wild Christmas: Day 10

Today we said goodbye to Christmas. It’s all packed up and put up in the loft with the dahlia tubers. That took up more of the day than we expected, even though it always takes us longer than we expect each year. So it wasn’t until late afternoon I got outside. I’d decided I wanted to have a go at making a fairy house from an idea I’d seen on Pinterest. I needed to saw a log outside. So I picked a nice round one from the log store and got sawing. The birds have been unwilling to come in the garden much lately while I’m out. But once I’m busy the birds don’t mind me. Once I got sawing the blue tits were first in followed by the regular sparrows and blackbirds.

The magic must have been working on my fairy house preparation as I had a visitor I don’t remember seeing in my own garden for a good while. A greenfinch came in for the seed. Greenfinches were hit by disease a few years ago nationally. It’s heartening to know there are still some out there.

Alice didn’t help with much of this project. She did a couple of saw strokes cutting the wood. But the one part she was definite about was that the door should be red.

For a quick little project, I’m happy enough with the result. Alice wants me to make another, so may get better as I go on. I made mistakes with this one I know I can avoid next time. I’m not sure if I’ll varnish it or let it decay naturally. The glue can dry overnight and then we can look for a spot for it in the garden.

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Dahlias from seed: my first years experience

Over last year one of my biggest gardening successes was growing dahlias from seed. I’d heard mixed reports on how successful this method was. With the addition of slugs and snails eating the young dahlias I had low expectations of how many if any, plants I would get. But despite low expectations, I ended up with a mass of dahlia plants. So many in fact we had to give them away. Even the window cleaner got some. So while I am no expert with one-year growing knowledge here is what I did.

I grew Bishop’s Children Dahlias bought from Sarah Raven. I had looked into a few types, some varied in germination, some varied in end results whereas these were meant to be easy. They looked to produce a variety of colours that I was happy to have in my garden.

I lack for a greenhouse or a cold frame. I also live up North in the UK so the winter frosts could have potentially caused a problem. Traditionally these are started in a heated greenhouse to give you a headstart to get the most out of them across summer. If you have access to these things that is great. I’m envious but even without they can still be managed. The seeds are little thin seeds. I used one large seed tray filled with peat-free compost. The seeds were pushed in upright so they were poking out a little. The tray was given water and a lid went on. They had to be kept inside, so initially, they went on the windowsill in our North facing spare room. The light is low in there but I have a couple of IKEA grow lights I put on in the evenings to lengthen the daylight. I don’t know if this was necessary but the IKEA lights are LED types, they don’t get hot like the old fashioned ones so I don’t think they will have done any harm.

I didn’t expect many to germinate having heard about mixed success rates. Just about every single one did and they put on growth rapidly. The seedlings initially grow their rounded leaves before they put on their true more jagged leaves.

From the seed tray, they were moved into 10cm pots to grow on. I grew these in Dalefoot clay breaker compost. At this point, it was still mid-April so there was still a chance of frost. As I wasn’t sure what to do I kept some in the spare room where I’d kept the seed tray. Some went outside in the shelter of a plastic box. The majority went in a really useful box. I moved it out during the day and in on a night until we got into May and the nights were looking warmer.

At this stage, it was tempting to put them in the ground. But I resisted and potted them into a mix of larger pots. Most were 3-litre pots. I reuse the plastic pots, as most can’t currently be recycled, from plant purchases so the size varied. I did this to get them nice and strong before going in the ground. As already mentioned dahlias are slug and snail favourites. The best defence for most plants is to ensure they are healthy enough to survive attacks. While they were in plastic pots on the patio they were less likely to be attacked. The young growth needed pinching out every so often. By nipping off the leading growth you encourage bushier growth and more flowers later on. As they put on growth I fed them with a mix of slow-release fertilizer on the soil surface and a weekly fed of liquid tomato feed. I kept as many of the pots as I could in trays as I was watering every few days to stop them getting too dry.

Once they were up to about 30cm and had filled out I spread them around the border and grew a few in pots on the border. With regular deadheading and more tomato feed, they have given me a mass of flowers through to late October and some hanging on in November. The variation in the packet was great: reds, orange, yellow, pink. The foliage of bishop’s children is rich and dark making for a nice contrast with many of the other late summer plants.

Once the frost’s started hitting I emptied out the ones in pots first so I could get on with planting spring bulbs. Then I’ve dug some out from the border for storing over winter. Opinions vary on whether lifting is necessary but I have clay soil and I think mine would rot. Many people had told me by growing from seed without a greenhouse they wouldn’t have enough time to form decent tubers but I can report they look good. Some are the size of a decent jacket potato. Advice suggests putting them I dry old compost or sand and storing them in a frost-free shed or greenhouse. Mine have gone in the loft. I don’t know that this is a good idea but I’m lacking other spaces.

If they do rot it isn’t a big issue though as I’ve got more seed to try next year. I’m also trying a cactus variety that claims to also be good for pollinators. These will hopefully add a few more colours to the mix and add some variety in shape.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my recount. I am indebted to many people who have advised me through the blog, Naomi Slade’s beautiful book and Twitter about how to grow them and would heartily recommend giving them a try.

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Turning Japanese: Making a kokedama

For a while, I’ve been after making a kokedama. I’ve had all the materials for a while but not got round to doing it. With the holidays here and the winter job list going down I thought I’d give it a try. The idea of kokedama originates from Japan. Kokedama translates as moss ball, though sometimes known as poor man’s bonsai. They’ve become a bit of a craze in houseplant circles. Though I’m more interested in making one for outside. The basic idea is an ornamental plants roots wrapped in a ball of soil, then moss, tied up with string. They are often hung, so can be used as an alternative to hanging baskets. Ferns are popular choices for the plants as well as growing bonsai trees within. I recently saw one with ivy in, which I quite like the idea of as it would trail nicely. Gardeners World did a demonstration of making one last year, so they are becoming more common.

I’d bought a kokedama kit a while ago without thinking about the peat content. The kits normally contain bonsai compost and peat compost. You mix the two together and add water steadily. This year I have tried to buy purely peat-free compost, though many of the plants I’ve bought will have been grown in peat. I think I’ve done pretty well buying from seed, growing from cuttings and buying from peat-free sellers. If I make another kokedama I may try and make my own mix. You are aiming for a mix which will hold its shape when pushed together that still has some aeration. I might try making a mix with akadama, grit, leaf mould and my own compost and see how I get on, but that’s something to think about in the future. I mixed the two soils together and added water gradually. If it gets too wet it will be harder to dry it out than to make it wetter. As it is I think I went too wet. It needs to be able to be squeezed into a ball, you can squeeze some of the moisture out in this process.

I’ve gone with a Blechnum Spicant fern for the plant. I’ve put a few of these in the ground recently so will be nice to have some on the patio as well to mirror elements of the border. It’s a fairly tolerant evergreen fern that should stay looking nice for a while. I doubt that the kokedama can be kept indefinitely. After a while, the plant can be moved onto a pot or the ground. But it should make for a nice little temporary feature like most hanging baskets.

I took the fern out of the pot and shook soil off and washed more off carefully, trying not to damage roots.

Then, taking the soil mix I moulded two handfuls to make half the balls. These were then pressed around the roots. I think my mix was either too wet or else lacked enough clay content as it didn’t hold its shape that well. I then wrapped the root ball in a sheet of moss. Twine is then wrapped around starting from the top to hold it together and tied off.

My end result is a bit dumpy. It certainly doesn’t have the perfect Japanese arts of an ikebana arrangement but it encapsulates the concept of wabi-sabi perfectly. It certainly isn’t perfect, permanent and is full of imperfection but I accept this and really like it. Currently, I’m sitting it in a pot saucer so it can soak up water as a common issue is that they dry out. You can test if they need watering by holding them. If it feels light give it water. They are often hung as I already mentioned or can be elegantly displayed on a slate or bonsai pot. The moss should green up again for some moisture.

I have enough materials to try one more, so I will give it another go and see if I can get something more rounded. But overall I am happy with my little dumpy arrangement. I like moss and ferns, so it’s a good combination to me. Now to find a good spot to display it. Within recent changes, to the garden, I think I can find a nice spot for it. I’ll leave you with the random Kirsten Dunst cover of turning Japanese by the vapors created for a pop-art display at the Tate.

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12 Days of Wild Christmas: Day 6

Yesterday saw a beautiful sunset. My photos didn’t really manage to capture the magnificence of the colours, but you’ll have to take my word for it. It was stunning.

Today I have been very tired. Alice didn’t sleep well, so ended up sleeping in with her. She’s fine today, but I’ve been achy and tired all day to a point I needed a nap. She has still been determined to do lots. We’ve had a gingerbread house kit leftover from Halloween in the cupboard which we’ve been promising we’d make with her.

We had a trip out to the garden centre. Alice was excited as ever by the water feature display. She loves watching the fountains. Further round she pointed out her favourite fish.

The Christmas displays are starting to be dismantled, but there was still one of the snowy dioramas to watch.

Alice spent part of her Christmas money on more fairies adding a bee and caterpillar fairy to her fairy enclave.

I kept my purchases to just a couple more bulbs from the £1 trolley. I will show them off later in the week. The garden is a bit sparse for flowers now but there is still some beauty to be found in the dried flowerheads of the hydrangeas. The corvids have been dominating the garden today with jackdaws and crows putting many of the birds off visiting. The sun has been out and seen a few insects flying around today.

It’s going to be an early night for me I think and then just as I thought I was done with the bulb planting more to go. I’ll try to get them in the ground tomorrow.

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12 Days of Wild Christmas: Day 5

Today we made it out for a brief walk around Hornsea Freeport. Not the wildest location for 12 days wild. But Alice and I have been wearing our wildness the last week. She had one of the RSPB badges with a robin with a Santa hat on, while I have a robin on a holly branch. Alice’s has been put down somewhere in the house but don’t know where. I’m sure it will turn up after the Christmas period is done and she’ll then insist on wearing it. One of the cafes at Freeport stocks the collection box, so she choose a new badge. We looked through as she was asking which we got in our garden. We had a choice of several finches, sparrows and butterflies.

Alice went for the peacock butterfly, a regular visitor to our garden in summer and sometimes into autumn.

I’ve also done my bit for promoting the Wildlife Trust wearing my bug shirt. Alice always likes asking me about the different insects on this one.

My gardening jacket is gradually filling up with the wildlife that visits the garden.

Back at home, there doesn’t seem to many signs of life in the garden. A bird of prey seems to be circling the area. Combined with the wind there isn’t much visiting the feeders today. The wren and dunnocks are sticking to the shelter of the shrubs and the sparrows are flitting in and out. The pots are showing signs of things to come, though I think the weather will probably go colder again slowing their growth. Time to settle in the warmth inside with a fire and a good book and chill out.

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12 Days of Wild Christmas: Day 4

Well, today I’ve managed to get out in the garden quite a bit, only in short bursts, but better than nothing. I’ve finally got round to sawing up the whitebeam that has been sat against the fence for a month. While I was sorry to remove this tree it wasn’t right for the position whereas the holly looks to be well suited. The tree has been sawed up and added to my pruning pile. I keep my prunings between the lilac and the Dryopteris fern They don’t really show there but will provide habitats for several creatures while they slowly rot. Between the branches and foliage in this area the frogs liked it for shelter in summer.

Alice was out with me for a little bit using a stick to poke holes for bulbs. The last of the alliums are now in. Most went in the borders but Alice stuck a few in random pots so we’ll see where they come up.

The hellebores have managed a few flowers that haven’t been completely chomped to pieces. A few insects were still flying about but signs of life are currently low out there.

The birds were happy to see me go in. They headed straight for the feeders as soon as I headed in.

I feel better for getting out, even if it was only for a little bit. Sawing up the tree and planting the last bulbs takes two jobs off the list. I’ve got a bit of winter pruning to do and trying to get the bin tidy flooring done in the front garden. My new wheelbarrow will get a decent run out. Enjoy the rest of your weekends.