Swings and Roundabouts


Alongside all of the wonderful little plants growing away quite happily there’s a small selection which haven’t come on so well…

Unfortunately the two main problems I’ve had are with the plants which make up the backbone of my design – sweetpeas (Lathyrus odoratus ‘Midnight’ and ‘White Supreme’) and the purple millet (Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’).

The purple millet has simply failed to germinate – only three seedlings out of the whole batch have come up.  I resowed, hoping it was perhaps a bad batch but three packets later and I have nothing to show for it – the three seedlings that did come up have died off.  Despite being at optimal conditions, on a heated bench at the right temperature in a glasshouse, they failed to thrive – this despite me having managed to get them growing on a windowsill last year.  I’m not sure what the issue is, but I suspect that low water might have been part of it as the benches do dry out the plants quickly, despite me having sown them onto fairly deep pots to allow for moisture without saturating them.  I’ve added another pot with compost in it underneath them now, to reduce the direct heat and to allow for more water to be drawn up if needed – millet doesn’t like too much water so it’s a fine balance to strike between keeping them moist and warm but not having to water all the time.

The sweet peas had a similar problem with early germination but, despite expectations that the ones sown in long-toms wouldn’t germinate, a good few have actually come up.  When put out into the coldframes, though, several seedlings were munched off right at the base, left lying to mock me in the morning.  I did double sow my sweet peas, when I thought the ones in the long-toms might have rotted, but the ones which went into root trainers had about the same germination rate – ‘not great’.  Well, perhaps that’s not being entirely fair – ‘White Supreme’ has germinated well – about 70-80%, it’s ‘Midnight’ that’s lagging behind with only about 20% germination.  This means I have a few more white than I’d anticipated, and just enough plants to cover the cordons I’ve set up.  Although I’d planned to alternate colours, I don’t think that it will majorly impact the style of the design if there’s two white to one black – the aim was mainly to have both colours, not a particular pattern, after all.

Atriplex hortensis 'Rubra'

So, apart from crossing my fingers and hoping, what am I doing about it? Well, I’ve protected my sweetpeas by placing them back in the polytunnel – I’ll use bottle cloches when they go outside until they’ve established.  I’ve considered how I’ll move my cordons, too, if there end up being more casualties (I’m going to remove the end ones rather than respacing them as spacing is important when layering) and I’ve sown a few more seeds on the off-chance they’ll get a growth spurt in the warm weather.  I’m not holding any hopes for the last one but as I vastly over-ordered those seeds I don’t mind trying a few more.

I’ve also plated a few plants which weren’t originally on my list to replace the purple millet and fill in gaps left if a few do germinate:

  • Brassica juncea ‘Dragon’s Tongue’
  • Brassica Rapa ‘Rubi’
  • Latuca sativa ‘Really Red Deer Tongue’
  • Atriplex Hortensis ‘Rubra’

Brassica juncea ‘Dragon’s Tongue’ is the stunningly dark veined mustard green at the top of the page.  It grows to ~60cm and likes shaded, cool spots in the summer – given my plot has half shade for the day I’m not too worried about starting it this late as it’ll have cool conditions to grow on in.

Brassica Rapa ‘Rubi’ is a pak choi with very deep, almost black, red leaves.  Never grown this before, and might not have tried it had I not seen a display at New Hopetoun Gardens the other day which showed just how dark the leaf is.

Latuca sativa ‘Really Red Deer Tongue’ (pictured below) is a lettuce which I’ve grown before and which, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve substituted for the second row of lettuce in my proscribed area – it’s also deep red, especially on the more mature leaves.

Atriplex Hortensis ‘Rubra’ (pictured above) is a deep purple-red mountain spinach – it can grow to over a metre in height and I’m hoping that it will substitute for the purple millet in that regard – as a tall plant to echo the uprights of the cordons at the back of the bed.  It won’t grow to its full height by viva day, but it may get some ways toward it.

Latuca sativa 'Really Red Deer Tongue'

All of the above were chosen because they grow fairly fast (time is limited, now!), they’re hardy, and they have the right colour profile. They’ll be used to replace the millet and to add to the ends of the cordon area if I have to remove some of the stakes – I’d rather not leave big gaps.  They can also be used to gap up any other spaces that might occur – choosing a range of heights gives me flexibility in their placement.


Little and Large

Mangetout pea (Pisum sativum 'Bijou')

The above gangly specimens are my peas (Pisum sativum ‘Bijou’).  They are more than a bit taller than they should be due to early planting being followed by snow which made me reluctant to get them out.  This is them after they’ve had the tips pinched out – not something that one has to do with edible peas but it does have its benefits in this case – encouraging lateral growth, reducing the spindly stems which might have been damaged when transplanted and, not least, it also provides tasty pea shoots to eat!

Pea shoots

Pea shoots are something I personally rather like – they mostly taste like young fresh peas and are nice thrown into a salad or just browsed straight from the plant.  The outdoor sown ones will not be pinched, so it’ll be interesting to see the difference between the two sets.  The earliest set of the sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus ‘Midnight’ and ‘White Supreme’)  are coming along well.  They’re ready to go out, in fact – just not, as today, when hail is coming down between bursts of bright sunshine and brooding cloud cover.  The ones sown a few weeks later aren’t much behind, now – though germination hasn’t been superb for ‘Midnight’ compared to ‘White Supreme’.

Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus 'Midnight' and 'White Supreme' Broad beans (Vici fabia 'Aquadulce')

The later sown broad beans are also beginning to come through – though as you can see from the photos, so are the weeds.  Weeding time has begun in earnest, as has grass clipping and the maintenance side of things in general.  Sowing is nominally ‘done’, now and it’s mostly waiting for things to grow and giving them the best care whilst they do so that will be the mainstay of my time on the plot from now on.

My second row of beetroot and lettuce also went in this week, as planned.  The first row of lettuce has come up, but the tiny plants had to be carefully weeded so as not to let them be overgrown before they’d even got started.  I decided to change my second row of lettuce to another cultivar – Latuca sativa ‘Really Red Deer Tongue’.  This is one I’ve grown at home with great success – it seems quite bolt resistant and has deep glossy purple-red leaves in an open head.  I decided to change this due to using it as a backup plant on another part of my plot (more on that in another post!) and felt it would be nice to add some continuity between both the design and proscribed sections of my plot and give a nice bold contrast for the almost lime-green, crinkly ‘Reine des Glaces’.

Latuca sativa 'Really Red Deer Tongue'  Latuca sativa Reine des Glaces

Veg rows

My pinks (Dianthus chinensis-hedwiggii ‘Black and White Minstrels’) are doing well in the polytunnel – the cooler environment and bigger pots are combining to bring them on, but in a nice, compact way. The pansies (Viola x wittrockiana ‘Padparadja’ and ‘Black Moon’) are also coming along well – with some starting to show true leaves.  Both the pansies and the Calendula that have germinated should be pricked out some time later next week and, if all goes well, the pinks shouldn’t be long until they’re ready to go outside.

The nasturtiums (Tropaeolum major ‘Princess of India’) have germinated a little sporadically, so I’m hoping for a bit more germination and growth over the next few weeks so that they can also go outside – the colour has been a little variable, with some being deep green with hints of red and others simply being a dark green-white but both should look good against the colours of the other plants.

Now, if we could just get rid of these pesky hail storms…

Ne’er Cast a Clout

Working in the sun!

There’s little more motivating for gardeners than a warm, breezy spring afternoon with the promise of the weekend on the horizon and so our plots were rather busy this Friday afternoon.  There was a general feeling of industrious enjoyment but also a bit of worry – will this weather last?  Is it warm enough yet? It’s a bit of a gamble – the weather has been so unsettled in the last few years that it’s anyone’s guess as to what the next month will throw at us. However, the plants are starting to get too big to be indoors any more and so into the coldframes and ground they must go – with protection, of course! Taking the old saying ‘ne’er cast a clout til’ May be out’ to include plants, too, many people are keeping their new transplants and direct-sown seed warm with fleece covers.

Of course, there’s a risk with fleece, too – it can keep humidity in and so it’ll need to come off, e.g. the broad beans (Vicia faba ‘Aquadulce’) as soon as they’ve settled in to ensure they don’t end up suffering chocolate spot and off of growing seedlings so they don’t get twisted underneath it or have their tips damaged – something which happened over the winter with another student’s broad beans!


This is my plot with all of the newly planted seeds and the seedlings covered – as you can see my plot gets a good bit of shade by late afternoon – this picture was taken around 4 in the afternoon.

Broad beans (Vicia faba 'Aquadulce') planted! Broad beans (Vicia faba 'Aquadulce') under cover

 Above: my broad beans nestled gently into their new home and covered with fleece to discourage ‘predators’ from munching on the succulent young plants and to reduce the wind a little until their roots have a chance to start taking up water.  These were started at the end of January in 1l long toms and have come on well – though the bottle-cloched ones were planted at the beginning of March and are starting to break the surface already.  The aim is to have a succession of beans (same for all of the vegetables) but if we continue to have good weather the second row may manage to catch up to the first.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of my direct-sown peas (Pisum sativum ‘Bijou’) which were also sown in early May but they’ve also started peeking out of the ground. They’ve had a good germination rate – better than those indoors – and are looking fairly sturdy.  The indoor plants are unfortunately getting a little leggy but have had their tips pinched and  placed in the coldframes to encourage branching out rather than upward growth.  This ‘Bijou’ variety does grow quite large, however.

From top left, clockwise: 'Golden Sweet', 'Bijou', 'Champion of England' Flower 'Bijou'

From left, clockwise: ‘Golden Sweet’ (mangetout), ‘Bijou’ (mangetout),
‘Champion of England’ (maincrop) plus a flower of ‘Bijou’ from my garden last year.

The poppies (Papaver somniferum ‘Black Peony’) and lettuce (Latuca sativa ‘Reine des Glaces’) which I sowed only last week are also already sprouting, too – I have a feeling that I’m going to have to do a lot of thinning with them given the good germination rates.

I pricked out some more of my pinks (Dianthus chinensis-hedwigii ‘Black and White Minstrels’) – I now have all that I need and a few spare besides as a backup.  My nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus ‘Princess of India’) and Calendula (Calendula officinalis ‘Neon’) have spouted and should be big enough to prick out within the next week or two – I’m looking forward to getting both of them out as they’re fairly tough and grow quickly once in the ground – fast impact.

Also sown on Friday: bishop’s weed (Ammi majus ‘Graceland’), candytuft (Iberis crenata), and onions (Allium cepa ‘Sturon’).  The first two were sown in shallow drills, watered in and covered with fleece.  The onions were sown in two rows, over which I made a cloche frame with Cornus and fleece to stop the birds pulling them out of the ground –  something they seem to really enjoy doing.

Once I was done with my plot I wandered around having a peek at what everyone else was up to (click images or hover over them for brief descriptions):

 Herb and flower circle. Anna's plot. Wooden house models.  B's plot. Very neatly kept fleece - I wish I could get mine to stay like this! Craig's plot.

Cornus stems twined to use as pea supports.  Michael's plot. Very neat 5l bottles used as cloches. Sophie's Plot. Marking out an area for cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) and broadcast sown annuals.  Julie's plot.


Direct Sowing

The peas and broad beans from early march are making they way up (one had even pushed itself right out of the ground!) and the weather is starting to get warmer.  Sortof.  Slightly. So at the end of last week I took the opportunity to sow more seeds direct.

It was the hardier of the plants which I decided would be safe to sow – some lettuce (Latuca sativa ‘Reine des Glaces’), beetroot (Beta vulgaris ‘Albino’) and a black ‘opium’ poppy (Papaver somniferum ‘Black Peony’).  If the weather continues to get better these early sowings will shoot away fairly soon.  Although we have to do two rows of each crop in the proscribed section, I’ve as yet planted only one.  I’d like to go back and plant the second in a few weeks – this means that there should be a succession of cropping rather than everything being ready all at once.

The start of the direct sowing means that it was time for my black plastic to come off.  It’s been a wonderful boon – the soil underneath it has been warm and the weeds were fairly non-existent.  Definitely something I’d try at home, now.  In it’s place, the plot has sprouted a large set of fleece covers – to keep the seeds a tad cosier and to keep the birds, mice etc. off of them.  Hopefully.

Indoors, I’m starting to see some activity with my ornamental millet (Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’):

Pennisetum glaucum 'Purple Majesty'

It may be tiny, yet, but these grasses always seem to start off fairly slow.  I sowed them in February and most of them are only at the stage of having a tiny radicle (seed root) poking out.  As they are surface sown I can keep an eye on them – unlike my nasturtiums which are being a little tardy but are hiding out under the soil where I can’t prod them.

Another set of seeds which is coming along strongly are my calendula (Calendula officinalis ‘Neon’).  they like a wee bit of warmth to get going but as we have only the greenhouse (HOT!) and the polytunnel (COLD!) I had to think a bit about how to provide them with more amenable conditions.  In the end I opted for putting them in the greenhouse but elevated on another small tray – this means they get the heat but are not sitting directly on a very warm heating mat where they’d rocket up and become straggly.  As they are a dwarf type I want them to stay short and compact.

Unfortunately, I keep forgetting my camera when I pop along to the plot so I’m afraid I’ve not many images for this post.  However, I have finally updated the Theme & Design section to show images of my design so for more colour head that way.


Pricking Out

These Dianthus chinensis-hegwigii ‘Black and White Minstrels’ seedlings were getting big enough to prick out – they had their true leaves now and needed to be hardened off before they started to get leggy.  A quick visual blog – you can hover over the images or click  them for larger versions to see a brief description of the process.

Tray of Dianthus seedlings with pots, ready to be pricked out. As the Botanics reuses pots, cleaning is essential. Broken pots must be discarded.

Pot overfilled. Excess compost struck off to create an even surface. Dibbing a hole for the seedling - not too deep!

Dianthus seedling in the hole, set in water to soak. Dianthus seedlings under fleece in their new home.

For these seedlings the next stop was the poly-tunnel, under a layer of fleece.  Certainly a bit of a shock for the poor things, given they were being coddled in the heated glasshouses, but there’s simply not enough space in there for them any more.