There's Elephant Hawk moth caterpillars crawling among the Gerberas, Hummingbird Hawk moth on the Buddleja's at the other end of town, pesky Cabbage White's still trying to lay their eggs on my brassicas ( and succeeding ). Nesting season is over so no songs from the hedges. August is here, with its wind and rain but intervals of brightness, harvest time in the garden, lots of jams and pickles and juices bubbling away in the kitchen, apples, which have been excellent this year going into almost anything and everything. This is a good time to observe and monitor. What is doing well. How are the experiments coming on -compost tea - seems to be working, rhubarb insecticide- that's working, although there has been very little greenfly this year, don't know why. Red spider mite- thought it had passed by but there it was on the chillies, so it was outside and several hosings off. They are now transplanted, one in the green house and one planted in the bottom of the remains of the compost heap. Should be nutritious.
Dahlias have been splendid and continue to be so. Keep cutting them for indoors and dead heading and they will keep producing flower. Here in relatively mild North Devon I can keep them in the ground all year round. Something unheard of in Sheffield. They just keep getting better.
Similarly the roses keep producing new flowers as long as I dead head. They get sprayed with the compost tea, mulched with horse manure and thank us with gorgeous scents and colours that we can share widely among our friends, continuing that noble heritage that surrounds the Rose.
The wet weather has brought out that perennial nuisance, the slug, to the summer garden. The dry weather earlier in the year certainly limited their numbers so my garden is not over run by them. Not the case for other gardens though. An account written in the Times earlier this week described the difficulties gardeners have. Studies carried out by the RHS have shown that egg shells, fleece, copper wire, garlic make very little difference to their numbers. Biological control with nematodes works. The firm which supplies them, BASF in Littlehampton have been inundated with demand and have been unable to cope with the orders from garden centres. That leaves slug pellets which is one of the controls that the RHS says will work. Birds and frogs will feed on slugs, as will ducks, although I've yet to encounter any slug eating predator near my Hostas when it's wet weather. They must have better things to do.
All the cutting, moving around and tidying not only keeps my eye on hidden corners but also produces unexpected surprises.I have over the last few days spotted seedlings of spinach where they were a few weeks ago. They didn't thrive in the hot weather, but somehow I now have new ones coming up, which I will pot up in a couple of weeks once they are bigger and grow on in the polytunnel. Also I have another seedling Echium to join the others that have sprouted randomly around the garden. It was 2 years ago since they flowered so the seeds must have laid there all that time. I have just found out that Echium can be propagated from cuttings. I collected a few cuttings from the Devon Sculpture Park last month and they are rooting nicely already. This Echium is fastuosum which is not hardy here so this will be treated like a tender perennial next year. The greatest surprise however is to the seedlings of the Trachycarpus that have emerged. I planted 3 in the garden at least 10 tears ago and needed to remove one near my studio. The plants flower and then seed prolifically but I never took things any step further. When I cut the palm down I burnt as much as I could and left things like that. Some of the seed must have rolled down the slope and settled on the top side of my polytunnel which is where I now have a seed bed with at least 50 seedling Trachycarpus fortunei. Given that the original plants were grown from a batch of seedlings I bought wholesale when I ran the nursery I can now see that I will have the next generation available next season.
So, life moves on, seasons change and we change with them. As the kind soul I spoke to today said, perhaps life will be simpler now.
Now the soil is moist after several days where we sometimes had heavy rain I am called on the deal with the vigorous growth of much of my plants. I needed to stake my sweet peas, so armed with some twiggy stems I cut and weeded my way in and gently entwined their soft stems on their new supports . It was the weeds that sparked some thoughts, not the sweet peas, although hopefully they will be good enough later to spark some thoughts of praise and pleasure. The moist soil means that the weeds are much easier to remove. The bulbils of pink Oxalis and fragile stems of bindweed are easier to tease out in soft soil. They just resist when the soil is dry. This set me to thinking of the apocryphal stories we were told when I was a student. Marjorie Fish at East Lambrook Manor in Somerset would instruct her newly arrived garden trainees in the identification of weeds. Only the weeds that were in the basket could be taken out. When I was a student at Kew Brian Halliwell, department curator would creep up behind students and ask in his inimitable West Yorkshire style, 'what's the name of that plant ? '. When the answer, especially in my case, was, I don't know, his response was, ' Why don't you know ?, next time I come round here I expect you to know to name of that plant .'. God, did he frighten us, and yes he did come round again and ask for the name of the plant.
I can remember being given a book called ' How to enjoy your weeds ', by Audrey Wynne Hatfield. I could and can only assume she never met Brian Halliwell, and I know that for gardeners the naming of plants can be a minefield, it was for me for many years, and that to know a seedling is not some little delight that has crept in unannounced is part of the search we all subscribe to, weeds can still be a bloody nuisance.
When I was head down pulling out these reprobates this morning I found an Echium seedling, which means I've got 3 now. Alongside the Alstromerias is a group of Nigella Gertrude Jekyll. They recolonise different places and always provide an extra charm to where they arrive. Around the ongoing discussions about the pros and cons of weeds is the complex debate about destroying soil, attracting wildlife, companion planting, broadcast sowing instead of regimental lines. If something was ever designed to get our knickers in a twist this was it. It's funny sometimes that when we start a journey, get on the bus ( this is a metaphor ) we tend to assume that what we see out the window tells us everything there is to know. An easier holistic methodology where we start, wait, observe, start again, wait, observe might help us keep our own counsel. But there again , who am I to talk.
So back to the weeds. Some are indeed first class scoundrels. Popping up overnight without so much as a by your leave. Willow herb host a flee beetle which in turn spreads, i.e. jumps to other plants. The beetles overwinter on leaf litter and the early growth on Willow herb, one of its favourites will indicate that it's around and active. They will nibble on potatoes, brassicas, tomatoes and several other plants and fleece is what works best to protect anything susceptible.
The fleece also protects brassicas from the Cabbage White butterfly from which hangs another story -
So there we have it. A few musings on weeds. We are now 3 months into the lockdown. Things are beginning to ease in the world that humans occupy, but only very slowly and carefully. All the pests and diseases in the plants in our gardens will manifest themselves now the weather is warmer, so along with fleece I have an armoury of defences I can use. Whatever the science, old or new, if it works I will use it. The fringes and borderlInes of science also offer a vast range of approaches, so whether it's granddads remedies, permaculture, bio dynamics, companion planting, they all might have something to recommend them. You pays your money and you takes your choice. As someone who steers away from factional politics all I could say is it's your choice, not mine.
This account has to be prefaced with a couple of points.
What I write about will not be for everyone following hip surgery. We have to be very careful not to bend, not to do too much, to keep steady on the ground. In my case I have worked as a landscape gardener for over 30 years and have a very productive and ornamental garden at home which covers about 2/3 of an acre. Before my operation, even though mobility was limited I could bend and was able to work in the garden, not all day, perhaps an hour at a time, but sufficient to do the preparation for this years displays and harvests.
Having recently returned home from having a hip replacement and watched the weeds pushing their heads above the parapet, so to speak, my mind it took to wondering how I could deal with their incursions. The grabber I bought from the orthopaedic department before I left hospital ( its like those litter pickers you see being used around town sometimes ) has been invaluable indoors. I did try it outside to pull up some of the weeds but it would need some modifying to work better. However I realised that I could perhaps use my long handled hoe ( without bending ) and then pick up the piles ( without bending ) with the grabber. This worked. Following recent rain the ground is soft and the weeds come up easily.
With the satisfaction this brought me I realised there are several non bending activities in the garden that can help those recuperating to be outdoors whilst staying within the firm recommendations against straining the new hip, so here they are, some of them.
Cooking. As someone who rarely has to cook, even though I can ( my wife loves cooking ) this is an opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen using the produce which my wife brings up from the garden. Red gooseberries ( Whinhams Industry ) and apple and Bourbon pie went down well. Japanese rice with cucumber, tomatoes, pickle and basil was another recipe I found and went well with the peanut butter chicken .
I hope these few observations not only help to keep the outdoors in your heart and soul but also to show how recovery can be a bit more inventive than the strict rules we are given when we first leave hospital, well meaning as they are. We do need to stay within the guidelines, we definitely must not bend beyond what we are are told by the physios, but with patience and care we can still keep in touch with the earth.
Colin welcomes hearing about other people's experiences and observation in similar situations.
Carefully manage to get my way half way down the garden and pick up the long handled hoe. I don’t have to go far to find one of my worst foes, Willow Herb, and the long reach of the hoe allows me to cut through their surface roots quite easily, before their seeds are lifted by the breeze and spread everywhere. The chickweed, fat hen and Redshank all receive the same satisfactory treatment and already I can feel my satisfaction levels rising.
Its a hot, blue sky day here in Devon and I have strains of Joni Mitchell running through my head ‘ the wind is in from Africa, last night I couldn’t sleep’, ( *1) but fortunately for me I did sleep. The flu that wiped me out a few days ago is beginning to recede and I’m sure the doses of natural vitamin D are getting through.
The hoeing is good for my weak frame at the moment. I can’t do too much physically but don’t want to fade away just yet so some light exercise will be what the doctor would order. The last few days of bright warm weather have allowed the flowers and fruit in the garden to really prosper. Many a Devon summer is more green and grey (*2) than bright and blue and most summer flowering plants struggle against the elements. This year there is not much sign of blackspot,the slugs and snails don’t travel far when its hot and dry so without these marauders and the non stop supply of photosynthetic enzymes and chlorophyll they are flowering beautifully. I keep on with the dead heading, which is another job I can do at the moment and more flowers are pushed up and out.
Whilst chasing away the willow herb and not being distracted with other more important things on the list some of the little gems that were rescued years ago and given a place somewhere have established themselves and the long term faith is being rewarded. Amaryllis belladona has sat in the perfect place, dry, tight, south facing for several years now and today it looks glorious, its long throated pink blooms flaring out like an exotic dancer in the Notting Hill carnival. This is the same Amaryllis ( but mine is the species, hence more robust ) with fat bulbs that can be forced into flower for Christmas which is always one of my seasonal treats, some people I know prefer christmas pudding.
I can get over to the green house which is now on the side of the garden away from the wind. This is its first season in its new spot and our crop of Sungold tomatoes are romping away. My Agave americana variegata is now planted beside the entrance. It does just about manage to survive outside here through the winter but it can now luxuriate in its new surroundings. Interestingly it was Pete G who helped enormously in the spring to move the greenhouse across the garden. When I sat in one one of Pete’s music sessions at.the New Inn in Fremington I was able to do a version of the Beach Boys song ‘ Take a load off your feet’ whose first lines goes ‘take good care of your feet Pete, better watch out what you eat, Pete, take good care of your life, cos nobody else will.’
all sung to a sound of tinkling glass and gurgles of water. Seems like music never far way from the garden.......
From my resting place up on the terrace I can look down on our fair acres and across the the green folded fields. The very steep field across the other side of the valley, where there is a big badger sett in the copse was cut a couple of days ago by the farmer Mr Squire. This is the first time we’ve ever seen the hay harvested in that field. The combine edged its way slowly and diagonally across the steep contours and 2 days later the bailer and fork lift also gingerly picked up the bales and took them down alongside the bottom hedge. I recalled turning hay and making shtooks on the Isle of Harris many years ago and Rob recalled the bottles of cider that would be put in the shade of the hedge bank so you could have a swig when you drove past. The Isle of Harris is dry so no cider there.
Closer to the terrace we can watch the wafts of Cabbage white butterflies floating on the thermals, hovering and gliding until they spot a likely brassica or Nasturtium. I often wondered how they worked out that my brassicas would supply their every need whereas my next door colony of Foxgloves were left alone. Apparently, according to the oracle, one of my old textbooks, they have chemo receptors along their spines and when they rub their legs against the plant to release plant juices the chemoreceptors tell the butterfly they are on the right plant. I have made an old fashioned potion of boiled rhubarb leaves which, with the addition of some strong detergent I spray onto my plants. This natural insecticide should deal with any tell tale caterpillars.
One more feature of coming down to the garden and catching up with hoeing the weeds is seeing the evidence of certain feeding caterpillars and their hosts. Schooled as I was in a quite old fashioned approach to growing vegetable one of the core tenets was the use of the hoe little and often. This would remove competition for nutrients, and remove the surface compaction that stops any rain getting through to the roots. Its a bit like combining all those tiny positives to create your best advantage. Equally importantly it removes those hosts that the insect pests live on. I hadn’t noticed the few stray Ragworts before but I couldn’t miss the stripey red green and black of the Cinnabar moth Caterpillar. This doesn’t feed on my vegetables, although it will feed on other members of the Compositae family. Indirectly then this insect serves a useful purpose to the gardener as an indicator. Remove the Ragwort, which is poisonous to horses, and is also a host for mildew, but leave it on the Tansy and enjoy the startling bright red of the adult moth.
The sun will be setting soon and I’ll go back down once more and carefully dig up a few potatoes, Jersey Royals which don’t like to stay in the ground too long. The obvious song must surely be, ‘I’m diggin’ my potatoes, stomplin’ on my ground’ (*4) I know that the original lyrics by Leadbelly weren’t refering to his attempts at vegetable gardening. When he goes on to say ‘I dont want no cabbage sprouts, bring me a solid head’ you can tell what he might be otherwise talkin’ ‘bout. Its a great song for digging up potatoes though.
Day 16 Play list!
*1! Carey Joni Mitchell
*2! England green and England grey Reg Meuross
*3! Take a load off your feet Beach Boys
*4! Diggin my potatoes!Leadbelly
Look up PeteG ie Pete Geiger on Youtube and Facebook
As a test first piece I thought I would write about Basil
I sowed their seed on 17th April. They like bottom heat to germinate so they were in my heated propagator. The seedlings emerged about 10 days later.
Since then they have been inside our conservatory where they get sun, light and regular watering in abundance. It is now 26th June and they are looking good. They don't have fancy compost, in fact the cheapest stuff available. What they love is heat, and some days my thermometer registers over 30 degrees inside, where outside it might only be high teens.
I pot them on when the roots show out the bottom of the pot, which is what I did today. Have to also keep look out for aphids, so they might be placed outdoors on a sunny day and treated appropriately. When I potted them on today I pinched them out so they would bush out. The leaves make a great salad with fresh tomatoes ( not ready yet ) and red onions. Slice, chop etc, add olive oil, vinegar, salt pepper and a little brown sugar. Lovely……
Thats all for my first blog. I'll see if I can add some photos next, the Hemerocallis is about to flower abundantly and the adjacent Galliardia and Geranium make a great Klimpt style colour combination.