Day 218: meadow textures

There’s nothing natural about this meadow-style planting, but the combination so enchanted me when I came across it in the Cottage Garden at Wisley a couple of summers ago that I return repeatedly to this image…

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Orange is the happiest colour

According to Frank Sinatra, orange is the happiest of colours, but while Ol’ Blue Eyes may have loved to be surrounded by it in his garden, orange is a something of a departure for me. This summer I've found myself embracing orange with an ardour suggestive of a wish to make up for lost time.

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Notes from the greenhouse

Mission Control has been looking a little sorry for itself of late. A wet winter and a less than watertight structure have taken their toll on the end of the greenhouse where I station myself to sow seeds, pot on, check the temperature, listen to the radio and drink tea (although the last two activities invariably occur wherever I find myself in the garden). This isn’t to say I’ve not been using it – far from it – but ‘making do’ has very much been the order of the day, as I’ve watched with a growing consciousness of my own inadequacy the seemingly endless stream of tweets testifying to the ruthless efficiency of my gardening friends, all of whom have appear to have cleaned, repaired and rearranged their greenhouses in good time over winter in preparation for the new season. Social media is wonderful for providing support and encouragement, particularly I’ve found in the gardening world. Just sometimes, it reminds me that I’m still very much a journeyman at this game.

My greenhouse, of course, couldn’t agree more. The leaky roof has decided that the main cascade is shown to its greatest advantage when falling directly over the potting bench, the plywood surface of which became badly waterstained, the grain not so much raised as mountainous. The max/min/in/out thermometer has been staring at me blankly for weeks, due in part to the absence of a sensible battery compartment, necessitating the irksome removal of six fiddly screws and a rubber gasket just to discover what manner of exhausted power source lurks within. It doesn't sound like much of an obstacle to overcome, but by the time I’ve made the short journey along the wavy grass path back to the house, I've passed several other more pressing things-which-need-doing along the way, and all thoughts of batteries and screwdrivers have been forgotten.

Clearly some TLC was in order, and so making the most of the extra hours of light we’re now enjoying, the potting bench has now had a rub down and several fresh coats of Briwax, which ought to see it through for a while longer. The thermometer is restored to an operational state (triple A cells in there, who’d have thought? I was expecting those annoying watch batteries), and I’ve built a new shelf above the bench for essentials so I can keep the working surface clear. Suddenly, it feels like a much more efficient operation.

I’ve also got a plan to add in a lower level of staging to create a third tier – there won’t be the height for anything taller than moderately sized seedlings, but then there won’t be the light levels for anything that’s exhausted its onboard store of energy, and by the time the first pairs of true leaves are unfurled and seeking out the sun I’ll be needing to pot them on anyway. It will just give me an extra (slight) defence from the mollusc army, though it is tempting to clad the vertical surfaces in copper. Now there’s a thought... but perhaps I’m getting carried away.

If the weekend stays sufficiently dry, I shall attack the roof seam with some silicone, a slightly fiddly process as I need to do this from the outside rather than from below to prevent the water from gathering between the roof timbers and causing them to rot. I’d rather be sowing seeds.

Whats growing in the greenhouse this month

Sweet peas in root trainers. Sown these into Carbon Gold GroChar seed compost, which I think might have been a bad idea due to the length of time they’ll be in there –they’re beginning to show signs of nutrient deficiency. Silly me; I’ve given them a shot or two of Maxicrop seaweed-based plant tonic and will get them into the ground in a few days.

Tomatoes in modules – these need potting on now. A snail got up onto the staging and munched all the 'Gardeners Delight'. Only one of the measley eight-in-a-packet 'Red Robin' have germinated (a new variety for containers), so I’d better look after this. All the 'Moneymaker' look good.

Cleomes – germination rate rather good, and potted on now into 9cm square pots. These were also looking a bit yellow (also sown in GroChar seed compost. I think it might only be good if you’re sowing into seed trays and pricking out fairly swiftly after germination, I tend to sow into modules and so need more food for the seedling as it’ll be in there for a while. I will stick with the GroChar but use sieved multi-purpose I think).

Butternut squash and courgettes – the first signs of life just showing, sown straight into multi-purpose in 9cm pots.

Hanging basket of petunias waiting to go out the front of the house, for some retro gardening cool!

A knackered looking melianthus in a 2 litre pot, a favourite plant I was intending to plant out till I discovered its toxicity to dogs.

Not to mention the posh pelargoniums, astilbes and misc cuttings/splittings, which all need some attention.

The cosmos will get sown today. Or maybe tomorrow.

What’s in yours? Do leave a comment, or send me a tweet!

If he’s not going to hurry up in there, he could at least let me in to munch on the astilbes

Deadheading by dusk

October, and while people who ought to know about these things argue over whether or not we were having an Indian Summer (we weren’t, apparently – just a late warm spell), there’s no denying we’ve all been given a late reprieve from autumnal maintenance tasks to enjoy being in our gardens a little longer. Even the supermarkets have been holding back on filling the shelves with Halloween paraphernalia in order to be able to cash in on an unseasonably late weekend of barbequing. It’s been great.

The temperatures having returned to something a little more recognisably Octoberish this week, I find myself engaged in my annual rage against the dying of the light, frantically deadheading everything I can in the vain hope that this will somehow manage to hold off the inevitable approach of winter gloom. Like pruning, deadheading provides a way in which we can influence how a plant grows by working with nature; in this case, a plant’s inbuilt desire to reproduce. Flowers appear, their finery intended not for us, but to attract pollinators (insects, or humming birds, for example – not seen many of these last in Kent), or formed to enable the wind to carry pollen from one flower to another, sometimes over great distances. Once pollinated, the plant sets seed to ensure its precious genetic legacy is maintained. A timely intervention from the gardener, snipping off a spent infloresence, has the effect of prolonging the flowering period as the plant concentrates its energy on creating sufficient seed to give rise to the next generation.

Once the seed is produced, plants tend to feel that their job is done, and either expire (in the case of annuals and biennials), or shut down, overwintering in a state of dormancy until spring (in the case of perennials). No more flowers; and when the asters and the dahlias, the Japanese anemones and the penstemons, and all the rest of the floral rearguard give up the ghost, it is probably time to retreat indoors, light the fire and settle down with a good book and a snifter of something medicinal for the winter.

As it is, I stand defiant among the late summer blooms, flanked by crinkling sunflower heads and the last of the cosmos, shaking my secateurs in impotent fury at the darkening sky.

A note: Apparently the phrase ‘Indian Summer’ has nothing to do with India, but is of transatlantic origin, and had something to do with Native Americans. I heard this on Radio 4’s Today programme, so it must be true.