Building a raised bed

As part of the RHS course, I need to look at veg production which is currently one of my weakest areas of knowledge. I have grown potatoes as a teacher with classes and I’ve always grown something to eat each year in pots: tomatoes, lettuce, beans, etc. But, for the course, I need to know details such as spacing for various veg. With the state of food shops, it seemed like a good idea to get cracking on growing. It’s also an excuse to remove another section of lawn. I could quite happily change the lawn into a potager but we’ll try just one raised bed for now.

I built this last week before we went on official lockdown starting with a trip out to the builder’s yard. Three boards and a few corner braces and I had the start of the frame. One board was cut in half to make the short sides and then screwed together. It’s just a small bed at about 2m by 1m. But it’s long enough to grow a few different choices. The lawn here is pretty worn so we’re not losing pristine grass.

A layer of card went at the bottom to suppress the grass.

A layer of leaves from the leaf mulch bags went down on top. It’s not as well broken down as I’d like but it should carry on breaking down and adding some nutrition to the bed.

I added the compost and a frame made from two willow trellis panels. The two panels were leant in together and opened to lock into each other in a tent shape.

I sowed dwarf broad beans last week to go up the frame and then I have radishes and lettuce to go in the space. Alongside this, I have a few tomatoes from work to grow in pots and some early potatoes chitting inside. It won’t give us a mass amount of food but the routine of tending to it and watering it will help give some routine during the lockdown and adds another activity to help engage Alice’s attention while she’s off. Wish us luck!

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Tuesday poetry-The garden Nicholas Grimald

A little bit of poetry to take solace in while we are in strange times.

The Garden
THE issue of great Jove, draw near, you Muses nine!
Help us to praise the blissful plot of garden ground so fine.
The garden gives good food and aid for leech’s cure;
The garden, full of great delight, his master doth allure.
Sweet sallet herbs be here, and herbs of every kind;
The ruddy grapes, the seemly fruits, be here at hand to find.
Here pleasance wanteth not to make a man full fain;
Here marvellous the mixture is of solace and of gain.
To water sundry seeds, the furrow by the way
A running river, trilling down with liquor, can convey.
Behold, with lively hue fair flowers that shine so bright;
With riches, like the orient gems, they paint the mould in sight.
Bees, humming with soft sound (their murmur is so small),
Of blooms and blossoms suck the tops; on dewed leaves they fall.
The creeping vine holds down her own bewedded elms,
And, wandering out with branches thick, reeds folded overwhelms.
Trees spread their coverts wide with shadows fresh and gay;
Full well their branched bows defend the fervent sun away.
Birds chatter, and some chirp, and some sweet tunes do yield;
All mirthful, with their songs so blithe, they make both air and field.
The garden it allures, it feeds, it glads the sprite;
From heavy hearts all doleful dumps the garden chaseth quite.
Strength it restores to limbs, draws and fulfils the sight;
with cheer revives the senses all and maketh labour light.
O, what delights to us the garden ground doth bring!
Seed, leaf, flower, fruit, herb, bee, and tree, and more than I may sing!

Nicholas Grimald

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Crocus

Time at the Bay

We have returned from the in-laws at Robin Hood’s Bay. The weather hasn’t been the best but we managed a few walks and had a bit of time to enjoy their garden.

It was quite windy both days so we stayed off the cliff path but managed to walk down between the houses.

We revisited the Victoria where we had our wedding meal.

The gnomes of the bay are still looking cheerful.

Amy borrowed my camera to get a bit more practise before she starts teaching photography again.

Alice wanted a photo next to hellebores outside one of the pubs. Maybe my influence is rubbing off.

The Victoria has wonderful drifts of snowdrops and daffodils open together at the moment.

A spectacular camellia on the walk down.

The stone walls on the walk down are full of life at the moment. Ferns and snowdrops are filling the walls.

Here are bricks made from the local clay. When I talked in my last blog about the soil being thick clay I meant it.

The in-laws garden is in transition between seasons. A lot going over while other bulbs haven’t come up to replace them. The cyclamen and snowdrops are starting to go over.

A lot of the hellebores are starting to go over but there are still many putting on a good show.

The pond is doing well. Amy’s dad has added a solar panelled fountain. Not at it’s best on a grey day but still entertaining Alice. I saw a few of the newts in the pond. They are probably eating all the tadpoles each year so they aren’t getting the frogs as much currently.

Alice is enjoying pretending to take photos. We’ve dug her out an old camera now so she can start taking some actual photos.

The willow hedge is establishing nicely. I rather fancy making a willow tunnel in my garden as it’s so easy to grow from cuttings but not sure how it would fit with the existing structure.

The daffodils along the hedge going strong.

The bird feeders were seeing as many visitors as I think I’ve ever seen there. Charms of goldfinches, bullfinches, chaffinches, sparrows, magpies, jackdaws, robins and peasants.

The blackbirds were rather inquisitive.

The chimney pots by the back door looking good.

A few cyclamens still providing some deep colour.

The greenhouse is filled with some succulents doing very well at the moment. My aeonium is miserable and just lost a stem after I knocked it but the ones here are looking great.

Alice was keen to get out and race in the garden. She ran lots of laps in the garden.

The crocus in the lawn looking great. Mine are starting to come through but the weather hasn’t done them much good. It’s going to be a good few years before I have a good show from them.

It’s always nice visiting the in-laws garden. I normally come away wishing I had lots of their plants in my garden and wanting to rush out and purchase lots but I’m actually pretty happy with my own garden currently. Though I wouldn’t mind some chimney pots for planters. Alice had a great time. She’s walked up and down the steps to the seafront several times over the weekend and she hasn’t needed carrying at all this visit. She’s growing up rapidly.

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Six on Saturday: 22.2.20-A week of practical jobs

I’ve had a super week with Amy and Alice off for half term. We had a great time at Burton Agnes seeing the snowdrop walk. I’ve been busy trying to get jobs completed around the house and in the garden while I’m off work. More news on my work situation later though. I’ve been endeavouring to become more practical and develop more skills. So this week’s six features a mixture of practical and craft activities I’ve done over the last few weeks.

1. New lights

Alice wanted to buy these lights for Amy earlier in the week as mummy likes twinkles. I got some hanging basket hooks and attached them to the log store. I’m not sure the lights are the best quality solar powered ones but they look nice enough during the day as well with the cracked glass look.

2. Lick of paint

I’ve given a few bits of the garden furniture a new lick of paint. The plant stand hadn’t been painted before but looks much smarter for it. The table and chair set up aren’t massively comfortable so I’m going to use this on the patio for a display stand for some of the seasonal flowers. I’ll shift pots onto show as they come into season.

On the plant stand, there are some tins of sempervivums. One of my pots broke so I have employed tins for now to house them. I employed a nail and hammer to hammer some holes for drainage in the bottom. They need top dressing with some gravel. But as I fill up the plant stand it’ll make a smart enough display. Tins heat up in the sun so lose water quickly but as this like to be fairly dry they should be alright.

3. Back gate

The back gate was one of the few casualties in the storms of the last few weeks. It came off its hinges. I don’t think the hinges were really strong enough in the first place. I have gone with some heavier duty hinges and swapped them to the other side of the gate. It’s a job I’ve wanted to do for ages as the gate opened on the wrong side meaning I came out the gate and then had to close it to get down the path. Now I can go straight out with the wheelbarrow. So the storm has spurred me on to complete a job I wanted to do anyway.

4. Front garden

The front garden has spent periods of winter waterlogged. The soil is thick compressed clay. As you can see from the photos it is thick enough to mould with. Digging in it I can see why clay bricks used to be a local industry. I’ve used the auger drill to drill down holes where several of the stepping stones are and then filled with rubble and sand to give several spots the water can drain through a bit better. While I planted many options that like moisture I don’t think many will like to sit permanently in water.

I also got hold of some SupaGrow soil improver to mulch the front garden. This is 4 for £10. Not a bad price for a peat-free option. It took about 5 and a half 50-litre bags to cover the area but it makes the whole area look better each time I do it. The soil improver looks like it may have been green waste. There were a few random bits of plastic in the mix but for the price can’t complain. I wouldn’t be surprised to find weeds coming out of it but fingers crossed it won’t contain anything nasty. The mulch will gradually get taken into the soil by the worms and other life in the soil. This will add nutrients to the plants and help improve the soil structure which will aid the drainage.

I also got around to finishing the last of the stepping stones. When I originally did them I just planned a path to the water butt. Then I decided it would be nice to have a path that went all the way around so I put some temporary log cuts down. These were a bit slippy so I bought the last few stone steps that I needed. Alice likes working her way around it on the way in and out of the house so it keeps her busy while we’re locking and unlocking the door.

5. Scottie doggy

This little dog ornament had been left at my last garden by its previous owner. It came along to my current house hidden in a pot. It’s a bit naff but it had lost almost all its paint. I decided I’d give it a fresh lick of paint while Alice has been crafting. All those years painting Games Workshop figures has to be some use.

6. Punning

I made a new garden sign to give me a bit of motivation as I try to get started in horticulture. This bad pun came to me a while ago and I thought it’d go nicely on a sign. The slate was a cheese board that had been reduced. So I painted on the design and I’ve given it a varnish. It also came with two cheese knives for good measure. I had mentioned that I was looking to change careers and last week I had an interview for a garden centre. I’m pleased to say I was successful. It’s a temporary job but on the growing side which will be an excellent start. Lots to learn.

So, all in all, a good week. I’ve got a week off until I start my new job. I want to try and complete a number of jobs in the house and garden before I start. Then I’ll probably find I’m tired initially while settling into the new job. I’ve already been given strict instructions that I’m not allowed to bring home new plants every day. I’ll have to see whether I get a staff discount.

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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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Six on Saturday: 14.12.19

The weather continues to get colder. The car is needing time to warm up in the morning. The garden is looking a bit bare after shuffling plants. The bulb planting is slowly going down. Alice helped plant two pots of tulips last weekend making that the last of the tulips. We planted some iris harmony in the top layer. The idea being we get a nice layer of blue irises, the tulips are planted deep so will flower later. I’m now down to a mass amount of alliums and the crocus for the front garden. The forecast this weekend is for a bit of rain this morning and then moderate breeze tomorrow. I’m still not feeling that well so I’m not sure I want to brave moderate breezes to plant the last bulbs. Moderate breeze round me means facing Northern sea winds. Not nice.

1. Cleaning the feeders

Currently, the birds have become particular about which food they want. The seed is going down fast and the fat balls are disappearing but the suet is getting left and going mouldy. The feeders are needing regular cleaning to stop the build-up of gunk to help prevent the spread of disease.

It is a grotty job but it brings plenty of rewards. Lots of visitors have come.

2. Primula

The existing primulas in the border are flowering but have been well chomped, though I don’t particularly mind. They were a gift that has spread out a little bit. They grow under the dogwood where I couldn’t put much else as it is too thick with leaves in other seasons.

I picked up a few more from the florist a few weeks back to bulk out the existing patch. I’ve stuck to the basic white as I quite like that basic colour set up in winter.

3. Hellebores

The hellebores are doing a good job showing the key major issues with hellebores. The flowers consistently look tatty and get eaten. Even when they do flower well the flowers aim down somewhat taking the joy out of them and making it awkward for a photo. But still, I persist in trying to get them to perform in the way I picture in my mind with stunning white flowers shining out in winter.

4. Patio

As well as reworking the border at the back on the left side I’ve also been shuffling the patio around. I’d built one log store a few months back. However the wood delivery was slightly more than one store so we got another one delivered which had been sat in the utility room for weeks, but I got pushed into getting it made so it was out of the way for Amy’s birthday a few weeks back. The two look smart together, though I’d have liked one on the other wall but we are still waiting on the builders to finish jobs. I figure they’ll act as a little bit of a windbreak fo some of the plants I’d like to grow. Alice is excited to be jumping, not about the log stores.

I’ve had a lot of the pots sat on the lawn while the builders have been working but now they have done this wall I’ve moved a few back. I’ve made a small platform out of a tile sample and breezeblocks. Not the smartest setup but it only intended as temporary displaying some of the winter foliage plants next to Alice’s mud kitchen.

5. Christmas lights

We have a handful of battery-powered lights out on the trees now we are into December. Hard to photograph but they add a bit of cheer in these dark months.

6. Rose

The pink rose has had a bit of poor performance this year. It has flowered several times but the wet weather has meant a lot of the flowers have been pitiful when they have bloomed. It is going through its last burst of flowers for the year. Impressive that it’s still flowering in December but unless it manages a few better flowers next year it may face the chop. In a small garden, you have to be ruthless. I don’t mind going the way of Lloyd and removing the rose from my garden for more foliage.

As mentioned already still not that well, so only managing short bursts in the garden doing quick jobs. Combined with the weather I’m not sure I’ll manage that many job this weekend, but I hope you all have good weekends. Might be winter but the jobs don’t stop.

Check out the six on Saturday guide if you fancy joining in the fun.

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Sunday shuffle

Having removed the white beam to replace with a holly tree this has left this border feeling a bit crowded. I’d planted the holly about a metre away from where the white beam was. It’s had a knock-on effect of making the surrounding plants feel a bit untidy so I’ve been slowly working over the last few weeks on redistributing the plants to make this border feel more cohesive.

Here we have the holly planted in place. The white beam is still leant against the fence until I have time to saw it up. Then it will be added to one of the woodpiles.

Here is the holly view from the path. The pink hydrangea in front of the holly seems to be a small variety. It came with the garden and hasn’t put on much growth, but that’s fine as it should work well there as the holly grows bigger. At the front of this section of the border are two large geraniums. They would spread and take over the world if I let them but I keep them to mounds of about a metre spread. I’ve given the area a bit of a mulch with some compost to put some goodness back into the soil now the tree has gone. The aim for this area is to fill with a number of shade-loving foliage plants to mirror the opposite border under a cherry tree. There is a climbing hydrangea you can just make out along the back planted earlier this year. They are slow to establish but it will eventually give nice glossy leaves and a burst of flowers. The opposite border has a well-established climbing hydrangea and it is stunning. All of this should start bringing the garden together into a cohesive whole. Starting out I made the mistake of planting too many single specimen plants and now I’m cutting back to limit my palette and have more repeated combinations. My love of foliage plants has been well documented and has proved effective in the front garden, so I’m bringing more of that to the back garden.

The Buddha’s head is a recent addition. It probably won’t stay there as I’d like it engulfed partly in foliage. The fern in front is a Japanese tassel fern. This was a reduced fern as it isn’t in the best state but as it was a variety I didn’t have. They form shuttlecocks of fronds. It is supposedly evergreen, so may serve the purpose of Matteuccia for the whole year. Not in the best state right now but should recover.

The addition of the holly has made the hydrangea paniculata limelight look a bit squashed so this has been dug up and moved along about a metre along to the other side of the bug hotel. It should have enough space here to fill out better.

Surrounding it there are a couple of cheap hellebores and heuchera. The straggly leaves at the front are ox-eye daisies. These self-seed all over and I redistribute them to gaps in spring. To the side of the hellebore is a Blechnum fern. This should grow to about 40cm creating another evergreen block of foliage over the next few years.

In between the limelight and holly I’ve planted another discount fern, a Christmas fern. This is named because it should stay looking good till Christmas. As you can see it isn’t in the best state but like the tassel fern it should recover. It should fill out to be an undemanding patch of ground cover. This is a US native making my fern collection a truly international affair.

Moving the hydrangea limelight along had a knock-on effect of needing to move the Acer Palmatum ‘going green’. This has gone along about a metre from where it was, leaving about 2 metres between the Acer and hydrangea. In between is a currently tiny Buxus plant that I plan to allow to form a small ball to keep some structure through the year as this section of the border has ended up bare each winter. There are a few more of the Blechnum ferns dotted around that that will spread and give a nice bit of foliage cover around the Acer. In the top right corner is a second climbing hydrangea planted this year. It’s put on a bit of growth this year and I reckon should claim the fence over the next two years. Right at the front of the border are two geranium x oxanianum. These are a short geranium with small pretty veined flowers.

The Acer itself should thrive in spring providing bright green leaves. This year it has put on a bit of growth but not been exceptional. I’m unsure whether I have the right conditions for Acers, but I like them enough to persist. As the other shrubs and climbers establish it will gradually become more sheltered and hopefully, it will manage to tolerate my sea winds. The stems are bright green. These photos don’t really do them justice. The plant label tried to use this as a selling point as winter interest. Currently, though it’s too small for it too have any major impact. Hopefully, in a few years, it will fill out well. The log pile at the back is frequently visited by the neighbourhood frogs. The half-buried teapot providing another shelter.

As I’ve been going along I’ve realised I have a few too many fine-leaved plants in this section and similar colours. So to add to the contrast and textures I’ve picked up two half-price hostas. Come winter garden centres want to get rid of hostas taking up space. They look like empty pots but will return in spring. These are very large pots and the plants look decent with roots out the bottom. Both are blue with quite large leaves. One is Hosta ‘Elegans’. This is a giant blue leaved variety. I’m thinking that this one can go to the back of the border. The other is Bressingham blue which grows slightly smaller. Blue varieties are generally more slug tolerant but only time will tell.

I’d also bought a pinus mugo mughus. This is a dwarf pine. My trips down to Dorset had given me an urge for a pine but I can’t fit a decent sized one. This is a slow-growing tough plant that will grow about a metre. I thought it would fit well with what has ended up being quite Japanese in nature. I have no intention of having something as carefully managed as a Japanese garden but I have got a lot of Asian plants in the mix. I’m not sure that I can fit it in the border though so I may look at placing it elsewhere or in a pot.

The overall look of this section of the border is a bit bare currently but give it a few years and the plants will fill out. Maybe half are evergreen so there should be more year-round colour. The Acer and hydrangea will establish over a few years whereas the holly will be many years to reach full maturity. But it should still look good even as a small shrub. It might not look that amazing right now but I like my blog to show a record of progress.

While I’ve done the heavy shifting Alice has filled the last two pots of tulips. Tulips have gone low down, then a few spare iris have gone higher up. The aim is for the iris to flower followed by the tulips coming through but we’ll see if this works.

But she was keener to strike a poise than be helpful asking for photos in front of each plant.

This section of the border has a lot of slow growers so it’s going to be a while before it really establishes but it’s good to have these blogs to look back on. I have an image in my head of how it will come together but I’m sure the reality won’t match my image. The planting should be fairly low maintenance and provide a decent home for a variety of wildlife. Now I just need the patience to wait for it to grow.