Category Archives: Annuals

In a vase for Clare

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This post is inspired by Cathy’s meme, In a Vase on Monday, but I am not linking in to it because my thoughts today have a more personal, rather than a horticultural, inspiration.

Do go over and see everyone’s vases, they are bound to be beautiful.

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A small group of us in north-eastern France had a very special friend called Clare who passed away last week at the age of only 67.

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Clare taught me many things about giving and loving. Her last words to me on 30 June were: ‘I want to come and see the garden!’

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That’s a huge and very special gift from one gardener to another … like musicians, we work all on our own, trying to create something that may never be appreciated by someone else.

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But we are unstoppable nonetheless! The strangeness of the inspired human being ..

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Last week was a turbulent week, wasn’t it? As we watched the Bastille Day fireworks from the garden of friends in Haute-Saône, little did we know of the horror that was taking place in Nice. Poor France. Hollande is correct – we are truly at war.

These  events have been a reminder to me (and I often need one!) that we need to hug our loved ones close today, because there may be no tomorrow.

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I picked my first really big bunch of sweet peas last week (late, because of our season). They were simply gorgeous. I gave some to Clare, and I’m giving the rest to you – my friends in north-eastern France, in memory of our very special friend. I just want her picture on my (very public) diary …

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Cutting garden review, June

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This is a useful exercise, inspired by Cathy’s Vase on Monday meme at Rambling in the Garden. Julie at Peonies & Posies used to do a ‘Cutting Garden Review’ last year, and now Christina at ‘Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides’ is trying to keep up the tradition, so I’m joining in with her for my own records. Do go over to Christina’s garden, if you haven’t already. You’ll find other people’s links to cut flower borders there, as well as Christina’s record of what she’s been up to.

My own cutting garden is only in its second year. Three years ago it was field, but I had already planted the hornbeams (the cut flower area is the top area of the Hornbeam Gardens).

To the left, below, is my swell new sweet pea support in border 1, with border 2 over the horizontal ‘path’ beyond it.

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On the other side of the main path is border 3, the delphinium/aster border, with annual cut flowers sown in situ at the front.

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Left to do in this area of the garden:

  1. I’d like to install either an arch or a gate in the entrance ways (two) – to be pretty, train the hornbeam over –  and to help keep the bull out! He trampled the Bon Viveur’s delphiniums last year and it was distressing …
  2. During this winter I’m going to reseed the paths so that they are more than just couch grass and sow thistle.
  3. I’d also like to create board edges to the borders (there are three in all in the cut flower area) so that they are easier to cultivate. I could build up the soil level a little within the beds using composted materials and they would look tidier even when the grass/weeds haven’t been cut. At the moment, the minute I haven’t strimmed it looks like a field again!

Last year I had great (if unexpected!) successes with some cut flowers – this year it’s all very much later and results are not at all good. In fact a good deal of propagation has been disappointing since we moved here in 2011 and started the garden in 2012. Owing to three factors:

1 I have no proper propagating area (first time in my life without a greenhouse). I have space in a sun room, which will eventually be a dining room.

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I’ve had a lot of success with cuttings using those pots that come with little plastic supports to prop up/protect droopy or small climbing plants at point of sale. I put a plastic bag over the support and turn it inside out every day to dry off the condensation. It works well – without additional heat – for lavenders and pelargoniums. Penstemons seem to be something else I’ve been unsuccessful with since moving here.

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And a small, rather useless plastic ‘jardiniere’ type affair on the shaded supper terrace – I put my seed pots of sweet peas and herbaceous perennials in there.

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There is no where else in the garden that is ‘easy-access’ for a quick morning check/watering. Except for the future site of much much-longed-for greenhouse. At the moment the light is very one-sided where I sow seeds, take cuttings. Also, what propagating areas I do have tend to be very shaded for some parts of the day. In hot springs this is a boon (and mostly they’ve been hot so far). In a cold wet spring, such as 2016, there is a huge amount of damping off. And consequently a tendency on my part to nervously over- or under-water (due to uncertainty about the conditions I’m dealing with).

2 I have struggled with the compost available to me since I moved to France. (Not to mention containers – I had to import 5 rigid seed trays from the UK  in my hand luggage.) Compost mostly seems to be of rather poor quality and there is (to my knowledge) no available horticultural grit – always used to be my drainage solution in the past (a covering surface layer and/or mixed with compost). But a kind friend nearby has reminded me of two things: the possible use of worm compost (using my own wormery) and the comparatively close school of horticulture/basket-making, who could probably advise me on sourcing better compost elements.

The weather – I still can’t adjust. We have the kind of garden that goes from too wet to incredibly dry in 3 minutes. I do have a small cold frame down on the Rose Walk, but in a hot year it can be like an oven there:  the rampart walls are behind and flea beetle is rampant. I’ve tended to sow my brassicas there – this is the first year that they’ve not done too badly.DSC_0351. Good things

Anyway. On to the cut flowers I’m growing this year and a report on how I’m doing with them so far. Overall, due to the weather conditions and my poor propagating facilities/techniques, the seed in the open ground germinated much the best.

At least I have learnt to time my sowing according to the weather: dry weather but moist soil and a shower of rain due within 24 hours – but NEVER, NEVER during a period of heavy rainfall. This last is very important. When I worked in a botanic garden order beds, we once had to repeat about two week’s worth of sowings to make up for the two weeks of rain that followed. The seed all rotted in the ground – fortunately we had enough to resow.

My seed in 2016 mostly came from Thompson & Morgan  and Unwins. I bought from Unwins for the first time, because they are such famous sweet pea people and I wanted to try some of their varieties. T&M have a lovely selection of seed, but it is expensive and not all their products are reliable.

Aster (Callistephus) ‘Duchess Mix’  & ‘Milady Mix’. Only a few of the latter, left over from a previous year – they were gorgeous in 2015 and I hope they do well again. Sown in pots or seed trays. Little germination difficulty and didn’t hang about too long when pricked out.

Ammi majus. Open ground sowing and much patchier germination than Ammi visagna. But some decent seedlings growing on.

Ammi visagna. Germinated really well in the open ground for the second year running.

Antirrhinum ‘Torch Mixed’ Sown in pots 21st March, germinating beginning of April. They suffered my classic pricking out problem here:  without the heat and sunlight they need, they hung around for ages looking miserable and are only really just ready to plant out now.

Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Éte’ & ‘Noordwijks Glory’ (purchased 2015), plus 2016 additions of ‘La Recoleta’, ‘Playa Blanca’ and a pom-pom mixture. Growing on well after planting out 20th May. I grew ‘Bishop’s Children’ from seed in 2014 and over-wintered the tubers. They were planted in the cut flower area last year, but the flowers lasted badly when cut. I’ve used the tubers elsewhere this year for the dark colour of the foliage and their amazing heat resistance during the dog days of July & August last year. Below, the dahlias shooting in front of the sweet peas.

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Gladiolus ‘Buggy’,’Safari’ and a black cultivar that I think is ‘Expresso’. No problems here. I actually left the first two in the ground last winter and they came through last year’s mild winter weather just fine. But I shouldn’t really have taken the risk because I enjoyed cutting them in 2015.

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Calendula ‘Pink Surprise. Good germination. I enjoyed my ‘Sherbet Fizz’ last year for the unusual pinkish tones in the flowers, so thought I’d try this one for 2016.

Calendula officinalis, nigella & cornflower mixture (own seed). Direct sown, broadcast, in front of the BV’s delphiniums (as you can see below). The mix was really successful last year and I liked the way the marigolds held up the other plants and prevented flopping. Good germination. DSC_0230

 

Clary sage ‘Claryissima’ & Ornamental grass mix (Unwins). Sown in drills in front of the delphiniums. Very good germination. In the photo below you can just see the drills of clary sage and grasses to the left.

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Cosmos ‘Antiquity’. Surprisingly poor germination for the direct-sown seed. Never had a failure with cosmos before – this year could be a first!

Delphiniums. (plug plant mixture from Hayloft Plants – see the story here). The delphiniums have done so well. They were fed this year and I’ll refine their supports (made from hazel) next year – it’s good but not perfect.DSC_0231

Larkspur ‘Unwin’s Special Mix’. Direct sown in front of the delphiniums. Good germination, but slow. Need thinning/transplanting.

Helichrysum bracteatum. Sadly, a complete and utter failure. This was Lidl seed, but I’m going to blame my soil and the weather, not Lidl!

Statice ‘Sea Lavender Mix’. Very good germination in pots and grew on the best of all my cut flowers when pricked out. I’m so pleased, because I love it and want it to be easy!

Sweet Pea, Unwin’s ‘Garden Performance collection. Includes: ‘Queen of Hearts’, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Duchy of Cambridge’, ‘Mars’, ‘Blackberry’, ‘Alan Titchmarsh’, ‘Romeo’, ‘Daphne’. To which I added the old cultivars ‘Cupani’ (said to come from the original Sicilian sweet pea) and ‘Painted Lady’. And then – for good measure – the very pretty ‘Molly Rilestone’ from T&M, which I grew for the first time last year and fell in love with. The sweet peas germinated rather slowly (I don’t give them heat, but leave them in the jardiniere). ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ didn’t germinate at all the first time, so I had to resow. I put that down to poor seed quality. My sweet peas have had the best of everything this year! Some worm compost from my very kind friend, a grand new support and lots of cool weather.DSC_0035

Sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’, ‘Vincent’s Mix’. Good germination, but nibbled by slugs. I’ve found that if I direct sow I don’t have to support – they definitely didn’t need it last year. Money for bamboo canes is rather limited – and I still haven’t sown my french beans for the want of.DSC_0240

Orlaya grandiflora. Excellent germination in a pot, responding well to pricking out. Unfortunately already running up to flower – need to get them out fast this week and see if they can be saved. And I was so looking forward to it!

Zinnia ‘Double Mix’, ‘Envy’ & ‘Purple Prince’. The disasters of the season. Can’t get them to germinate well this year, no way, no how. I have over-sown once and the resulting seedlings are struggling with the overcast conditions. The cheap mixture I bought in Lidl, sowed in a pot in the propagator and then pricked out (which you are not supposed to do with zinnias), is doing much better. The problem with the cell-sown seeds is that the trays are too big for my little propagator, so the seeds and young plants are missing the heat. I perhaps could invest in one of those thermal blanket type thingeys to help solve the problem in the future?

Comments:

Direct sowings Since my soil is clay and often too dry, I water the bottom of the drills in dry weather and then cover the seed with a layer of cheap compost to prevent capping. (I use compost from Lidl’s, which is not good enough quality to use in pots, but does this job fine.)

I’ve often covered seed drills with fleece, not only to warm the soil, but also (a trick I learnt from the blog of a vegetable gardener in hot Provence), to protect from very hot sun. Direct sowings are finally growing on quite well, but it will be a while before I have flowers and I still need to thin (not thinning in previous busy years has proved a disaster, particularly with cosmos).

There is just a little slug damage on some sunflowers. Mostly through being sown so close to the hedge. Unfortunately the little pest below is also attracted by my seed drills. (But she makes up for it in other ways!)DSC_0241

Prickly branches across the drills seem to be the only solution, but I hadn’t got around to it yet in the picture above.

Sowings in pots for pricking out. Mostly sown back on March 21st, only just ready to plant out now, mid June!

So, that’s it for June. Not bad, considering the weather. But not good either. Fortunately I have had many propagating successes in years past (using perennial seed from the Hardy Plant Society) without which I would have been unable to plant the Long Border when it was first cultivated in 2013. I’ve written a little about this here …

With thanks to Christina for giving me a nudge in recording my successes and failures. And hopefully some pictures of flowers in July!