Saturday, 6 August 2016

What I've learned about gardening this year

Nasturtium in shade, mottled with morning sunlight

This year, I decided I was finally going to do something with the front garden area, and turn at least part of the (mainly) weeds and scrubby grass quadrangle into a flower garden. I had experience of planting vegetables, fruit and other edibles but flowers are not something I've had much time for in the past.

My approach could best be described as the 'fling it in, see what takes' method. I wanted to attract more bees so some I acquired certain plants with that in mind after a quick read up on the RHS website. Others were cast offs from other peoples gardens, or happened to be on sale as I was passing by. Some rancunculus bulbs (think squat, squashy spiders) were left over after a work team day and so I snaffled them. They have not been that successful in the garden as the rain in June was not to their liking but I will be getting more for next year.

My one and only Persian buttercup/ ranunculus. After this, the plant pretty much died. Sigh.

I wanted sweetpeas, inspired by a friend of mine who grows them every year and has the blooms on display about her house in small glass jars. I really liked the idea of being able to do that. The sweetpeas I planted did not do that well this year, again I think partly because of the drenching in June, and then when they did bloom I forgot to take little bouquets for the house. I also forgot to regularly nip off the seed pods which I assume prevented them from flowering with the gusto they might otherwise have done. Sweetpeas therefore go under the heading of 'must do better next year'.

A success of this summer has been the dahlias. Last year, I bought 4 pots of dwarf dahlias that were for sale outside a house. I put them in tubs that summer of 2015, not really knowing what to do with them, and in late autumn followed the advice of a friend (she of sweetpea fame) and collected the tubers, storing them somewhere dry and cool over the winter. In the spring, I was delighted to find many of them sprouting and so tubbed them up to see how they'd get on, then planted them out in the garden proper when they were big enough. The tiny plants of last year have bloomed into lovely large plants this year - they liked the rain. I bought a couple more dahlia plants - again from outside a house - and will see if I can repeat the success with lifting the tubers for 2017.

I did not achieve the wild profusion of sweetpeas I had hoped to this year. It was the one plant I was cautious with seeding! That will change next year.

A disappointment has been the hollyhock. I bought one from Wilkinson's for the express purpose of the benefit to bees but it has double-bloomed in such a way that no bee can get near the pollen. Also, the plant itself is a great spreading hoggish thing that has done its best to flatten and bully all plants in a two foot radius. The extra weight of the flowers means that the plant has needed some serious tethering and my garden looks a bit scruffier than I would have liked it too. All in all, I won't be bothering about planting a hollyhock next year. I do have a lupin and I have enjoyed that as it is has been respectful of the other plants in its vicinity and done its duty in terms of the bees.

Hollyhock, beautiful colour but not much good for the bees. Fail!

The nasturtiums have, until recently, done well in the front garden this year. I planted them indiscriminately, and they went crazy to the point where I was cutting them back and feeding a few leaves to the chickens here and there to stop them taking over. In the past couple of weeks, they have been decimated by caterpillars. Cabbage white caterpillars at that so it's not as if they have been sacrificed for some rare and interesting butterfly. In a matter of days, the thick forest or leaves has been stripped back to stalks. This will no doubt please the fuschia, the herbs and the borage which were unable to keep up with the nasturtiums riotous energy but it's sad how quickly they have been stripped.

Beautiful poppy which I'm glad I spotted in the morning and took a picture of as by the end of the day all the petals had been blown off.

My favourite plant of the year has been my yellow flowering nemesia. Bought for a couple of quid outside a charity shop, it has been prolific in throwing out blooms. I don't think it has been out of flower for months. The flowers are small and dainty and the plant itself has struggled to survive with the greedy hollyhock menacing it. I don't know if it will last to 2017 but if not I will definitely be getting more nemesia next year, two plants at least.


One of the first flowering plants in my garden, a pansy from a set of 6 bought from the local co-op. One was dug up and/ or squashed so many times by the local cats who use my garden as a toilet that it did not make it to the flowering stage before giving up and dying. The others all did well, until the foliage around them exploded and flattened them to the ground. They are still alive but in a straggly state.

Other things I learned this year:
A lot more cats shit in my garden than I realised. Any weeding session has to be preceded by a crap-collecting session to avoid unpleasant squishy surprises.

I really need to pay attention to labels and packets in terms of how big a plant can get. I assumed borage wouldn't get very big as I'd only sit it in a friend's greenhouse, where it was in a pot and didn't have to fight for sunlight. The borage plants in my front garden have grown into beasts to fight the nasturtiums for sunlight and space. The bees have loved them, so I intend to keep borage as a feature of the garden. Maybe only 1 or 2 plants though!

Wilkinson's plant labels may say a plant will be one colour but that doesn't guarantee it - the large poppy plant I bought turned out to flower orange-red rather than hot pink.

Having my own oregano and thyme plants in the front garden is fantastic. I have no idea how these plants do during the winter and will read up on that closer to the time so I can take lots of fresh sprigs and chop them up to freeze in case they die back over the cold months.

If you put lavender in a nice sunny place it is much happier than it was when you originally put it in a sun-starved, weedy area.

June and its almost daily rain enabled me to take some arty-farty photos with raindrops and plants :)

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