Hanging baskets – time for a bit of a refresh

When the garden is in bloom there is no better antidote to the blues. Bright, colourful flowers and a bit of sun may just be the best thing in the world. However, this weekend saw us give in and accept that the hanging baskets needed a wee bit of help. They weren’t horrendous, I mean there was stuff in them, they were just a bit… lacking.

I take full responsibility for it though, I was a bit over eager to get some colour out there after the winter and I’m afraid to say I threw the poor little baby petunias out of the greenhouse a few months too soon. Poor wee souls, shivering away in the cold.

So they were a wee bit under developed.

Oh no!!!! A trip to the garden centre, how horrendous! NOT!!!

It’s a bit like when you go to Ikea, you go for a specific thing, like some tea light candles and come home with a Billy bookcase. Well a trip to the garden centre is exactly the same with us. We go for some petunias for the hanging baskets and end up with 100 quid’s worth of plants and two planters. Watch the video and see how much we ARE NOT miffed by this LOL.

We did our usual and stood at the entrance with Kate saying, “we only need one trolley. We’re only getting some plants for the hanging baskets.” To which I, as always, replied, “yeah we always say that and then you send me for another trolley cause we’ve filled the first one.”

Guess what happened? Yep two trolleys.

So off course, that mean we HAD to fill them. It turns out, it was just as well, but I’ll tell you all about that in a second.

So petunias for the hanging baskets, you guys know by now what our favourites are, so as usual, my favourites: easywave

And Kate’s favourites, starry night

We also got something new, you’ll have to trust me on this cause in the photo it looked just like the pink and white easywave petunias, but it’s not quite. In fact it’s not a petunia, although I can’t for the life of me tell you what it is. It was labelled up as a trial and had “???” Where the name should be. But it’s got flowers like smaller versions of the petunias but the leaves and more like succulent leaves and stems. We thought we’d give it a go though.

So I was telling you that it was a good thing that we bought extra plants. Well… we came home and got stuck in. Kate was tidying up the rockery and I was sorting out the planting out back. That includes two big wooden planters which we’d bought new plants for. They are full of aquilegias which die back in late summer which leaves the planters looking as bit empty, so we got some new bits and bobs for them. While I was arranging the plants, not planting or touching the planters in anyway, I heard a thwump noise. I turned around to see one of the planters had just basically disintegrated. One side had completely fallen apart and the soil and plants were trickling out. I SWEAR IT WASN’T ME!

Turns out the wood had just rotted and eventually just given in. They are 7 years old to be fair. So it was a quick jaunt out to replace the planter. Actually we replaced both cause on inspection the other one was pretty much rotten as well.

Means we have a couple of nice bright new planters though which match the colourful pots we have around the garden.

As well as all this fun, we got a few new plants that are just the perfect photography models (there are just some plants that are wayyyyyyy more photogenic than others). So here are some of our new gazania.

A walk around the garden with a selfie stick – June update 2019

It’s been a good while since we just went for a walk around the garden and talked about what’s happening, so come for a walk with me and a go-pro on a selfie stick.

Remember Colin? Let us introduce you to Jim…

Remember Colin? Every year we named one of the courgette plants Colin and used him as a way of updating you guys as to how things were going with the seedlings.

Colin over the years

Well this year we thought we’d do something different. In honour of Jim McColl, our favourite gardener who retired from Beechgrove Garden this year, let us introduce you to Jim the tomato plant.

Jim the blue cherry tomato plant

You’ve already seen Jim appear in blogs and videos, but this is the first introduction. Above was Jim as a small seedling, but obviously he didn’t stay small.

Jim is getting bigger.

He is now the biggest tomato plant in the greenhouse and has a little name tag so we don’t forget who he is.

He was also the first to get tomatoes

Jim and his shiny name tag

As the year goes on, we’ll keep you up to date on Jim and how he is doing, but don’t worry, we haven’t abandoned Colin, he’s happily enjoying retirement from the media spotlight.

Colin enjoying retirement

On the note of retirement, I promised you my Jim tribute video for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.

Creating a bee friendly garden

When we first started gardening, I was terrified of having bees in the garden. I should have written terrified in capital letters to get over to you guys what a big deal it was. I didn’t want flowers near any of the areas where we sat because if a bee went anywhere near me I freaked out and would literally run off in a panic. I could probably argue that this wasn’t an over reaction, as I had been stung as a toddler and reacted really badly, not anaphylactic shock but I had swollen up so badly that the doctors warned my parents that if I was ever stung again, they should take me to the hospital straight away, just in case. Especially if it was near my face, neck or chest. With this in mind, I’ve grown up terrified of being stung.

Unnecessarily, because what I have learned from gardening is that, truly, if you don’t threaten them, the bees aren’t interested in you. That’s 7 years of gardening now and I haven’t been stung at all, leave the bees to go about their bee business and they’ll leave you to yours 🙂

And… did you know, there are more than 200 species of bee in the UK? But generally we are all focussing on honeybees (we hear a lot around these parts about people installing hives on roof tops etc) when the honeybee is just one species of all the bees in danger, and there are just over 20 types of bumblebees. The rest are solitary bees which we aren’t making as much of a fuss about.

So, given that gardens can offer some of the most important habitats for a huge variety of the bees found in the UK I thought it would be good to talk to you guys about the changes we made to our garden, and are still making and maybe give you some hints on how you can help your local bees.

The bees LOVE the cotoneaster, it literally buzzes all day and into the evening.

The wild corner

We have a wild corner behind our shed. It’s shaded (because our garden can get baked in summer by sun, think how exhausting a lot of direct sun is for us, imagine if for the tiny bees trying to complete their days work? It is also sheltered from the wind, which is good because we can be in a wind tunnel sometimes. There are various bits and bobs “left alone” in that corner, bits of wood on the ground, upturned plant pots with cracks, gaps and holes to provide shelter etc and we are in the process of installing some “bee hotels” for the solitary bees. This spot is ideal as its shady and doesn’t get disturbed.

If you fancy installing some bee hotels, pop along to the https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/garden-activities/buildabeebandb/ website for some guidelines.

Blooms all year round

Bees are active for most of the year, not just spring, so make sure you have plenty of bee-friendly plants, with at least two in flower at any given time right through the year.

If you aren’t sure about your garden, you can test it out with the bee-friendly tool from  www.bumblebeeconservation.org  just add your plants and get a score and some useful advice.

Bee having fun on a foxglove

Choosing flowers

Think like a bee, not like a gardener. As gardeners, lots of our plant choices are about how they look, we like big blousy flowers with lots of petals but these make it hard for bees to get access to the nectar. So choose plants that make it easier for tired bees to get to the nectar , open plants with wide open blooms.

the bees love the dahlias

Again there is help on hand if you are unsure, the RHS ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ tags are helpful and you can keep an eye out in the garden or the park and watch for those plants that are already attracting bees.

Pop along to the https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/conservation-biodiversity/wildlife/plants-for-pollinators website for a handy list of plants to help you get your garden bee friendly.

Having happy bees in the garden gives me excellent models for my photography practise.

Jade plant cuttings – an update on my adventure

I have a very happy update for you, my jade plants are now, all, very happy which is such a relief for me. It’s really hard to get over in a blog post, just how much I was worrying about my plants after I almost killed them with love. But happily all the plants ( all 12) are healthy and growing well.

For those of you who didn’t follow along with me as I learned to save and look after my plants, basically I changed the environment, meaning, overwatered and under-lit my main big plant and the leaves started withering and falling off, quite drastically. This was quite stressful as it was a very mature and very big plant. It had looked seriously impressive. (I’ll embed the two previous posts about this adventure below so you can catch up on the drama).

So after all of that I wanted to give you guys a quick update, because I am soooo chuffed with the results.

jade plants on a table
Centre plant is the now rescued and pruned original plant, two either side are the smaller plants which I separated and all over the table are the cuttings which are now plants in their own right.

Since my last update I’ve had no leaf drop, no problems of any kind and all the plants are putting out healthy new growth. Although I am now struggling to find places for all the new plants where they have the light they need. Once they have come on a bit they will be gifts for friends I think 🙂

I’m even seeing that red tinge come back on some of the leaves.

Remember all those cuttings?

The only thing I am still struggling to adjust to is how small and bare my plants seem in relation to how they were before. I know they will fill out again, they had lost a lot of leaves and I had to prune them quite hard, but knowing and feeling are very different. I get excited as I see new side shoots appear and I’m pretty much checking them every day and willing the little guys to grow.

One of the bigger plants is way more naked than the others, basically it’s a stick in a pot and I’m struggling to feel the love. So what I’ve decided to try to do with that one is to encourage it to grow in an intersting way.

single jade plant

One of the stems snapped when I was moving the pot and it was a bit depressing, so I’m trying to encourage that stem to keep growing, but around the main stem to make it kind of interesting. I have no knowledge or previous experience of bonsai, so learning as I go with this, but I’m using loose, soft wire to try to encourage things. It’s all learning and adventure.

I’m also trying to encourage some upright shoots from the two main branches. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m just going to continue to give these guys love ( not too much love) and let them develop their own little personalities. And of course, at some point I’m going to have to find them forever homes.

Older posts to catch you up

Greenhouses: glass versus polycarbonate. Is there much difference?

I wrote a blog post a good while back now asking if an unheated greenhouse really made much difference and I think having one here in the cold, wet north really was a great tester.

In that post, one of the things I commented on was the fact that I had no experience of the difference between a traditional glass greenhouse and a polycarbonate one, so couldn’t offer a more specific analysis.

Well we are at the end of our first spring season with the new glass greenhouse now, so I thought this would be a perfect time to give you an update and tell you if there is a difference or if you should save your pennies and stick to the cheaper options.

So let me answer the question straight off, which is better glass or polycarbonate?

Glass, absolutely no doubt. I don’t think I could switch back now.

There you go, blog’s over :P. Kidding…… let me tell you about my experience.

If you are a regular here you’ll already know the stories of my greenhouse and its travels, but bare with me as I let the newbies in on our adventures.

I have had a polycarbonate greenhouse for about 6 or 7 years now. It was a few hundred quid, so was affordable whereas at the time of buying it, I couldn’t really afford to shell out a grand on a glass greenhouse when this was my very first trek into gardening and I didn’t even know yet that I was going to be hooked.

And let me say this up front. I was VERY happy with my greenhouse. It really made a difference and I found seeds took faster and seedlings came on faster than anything I planted outdoors. It also offered protection from frosts and in summer when it was sunny, it doubled as a staycation resort.

However, the thing it didn’t cope with was wind and rain. Basically if it rained, the greenhouse leaked like mad. Water got into the corrugated roof panels and they filled with green, algae type stuff which meant cleaning every year was a massive job and less than pleasant.

When it was windy, my heart was in my mouth, regularly I would have to go on early morning treks around the neighbourhood looking for roof panels which had blown off in the wind and gone off on their own adventures and the greenhouse ended being held together with gaffer tape and hope.

Greenhouse wind damage

Things finally came to a head last year when I lost multiple panels, most of the clips that held the roof in place and the window was torn out by the wind and completely bent and also ripped the frame so it couldn’t be fitted back in again. We decided enough was enough and bought a glass greenhouse which advertises specifically that it is capable of coping with even the worst winds.

We got it installed in November though, so spent the winter with a beautiful shiny new greenhouse but nothing to grow in it.

Until now… I can finally give you an update on my experiences and compare.

Glass versus polycarbonate

So as I said, the polycarbonate greenhouse absolutely did its job when it came to growing stuff. Seeds germinated and seedlings grew and things definitely came on faster than outdoors.

However, this spring with the glass greenhouse, EVERYTHING grew. EVERY SINGLE SEED. Leaving me with a massive conundrum, because I always plant more than I need, because usually only about half came up. Basically, I gave away 20 tomato plants and a similar amount of peppers and chillies this year, as we had so many healthy, strong plants. Not only that, but once things had started, they came on at an alarming rate (well alarming for me).

The other big difference I notice is that the glass greenhouse is so well put together, there are no gaps for wind to whistle through and no leaky spots. The whole thing just feels solid.

Also noticeable, which was a bit weird for me at first, was the temperature change. In February when normally everything is freezing, there were days when the greenhouse was sitting at 19 degrees C. Really!!!

So I guess from here on it’s a case of watching and comparing to previous years, but so far I can definitely say that yes there is a big difference between glass and polycarbonate, but, glass is expensive so if it’s not an option for you, polycarbonate just might be.

Just for a bit of daft fun, here is the other use we made of the greenhouse at christmas…

See ya suckers!! Pruning tomato plants for better harvests.

I suspect this may be the most talked about, googled and youtubed piece of advice for gardeners growing tomatoes, but also the one which is surrounded by the most confusion. Pruning your tomatoes.

The thing is, it actually doesn’t have to be confusing or complicated, here is my simple guide to tomato plant pruning.

Pruning tomato suckers is more important with vine-type varieties (indeterminates), and not as important with bush-types (determinates). With determinate varieties, you need only prune suckers below the first set of flowers (which will become tomatoes), as suckers won’t negatively affect these plants in any way. This lets light and air around the stem and helps keep the plant healthy and stops the new sucker growth from nicking the nutrients that set of fruit needs.

So suckers, what on earth…. basically, they are just new stems. They grow in the axis between the main stem and the leaf.

If you leave them alone and let them grow, they’ll create whole new stems and will even flower and give you little tomatoes…. awwwww, however, they will steal nutrients away from the main tomato stem, weakening it, and depriving the other shoots of the nutrients they need to create tomatoes. Hence why you want to focus on that one big stem and not have lots of other stems stealing the goodies.

Tomato suckers are most annoyingly energetic in the height of the summer when the plant is producing lots of tomatoes, so be diligent and keep pruning.

But Eli…. you haven’t told us how to prune…

True, but not to worry, it’s very simple, just pinch them off with your thumb and finger nail. You want to pinch them off as close to the stem as possible. That’s it.

Oh if you somehow miss one and it grows bigger (which is totally going to happen), you can just snap it off by pushing it up and then down. It takes a bit of practice but they snap quite easily.

That’s it. Now go make your tomato plants lovely! 🙂

Supporting your tomato plants – we go fancy pants

Tomato plants get big. Really big. So they generally need a bit of support to keep them upright and stop them falling over with their own weight.

We’ve generally done this one of two ways in the greenhouse, a bamboo cane which we loosely tie the stem of the plant to, to help keep it upright, or a big bit of string hanging from the roof that we twirl around the plant. Both have worked brilliantly, although be warned, bush varieties with multiple stems need a wee bit more support than just one cane of string.

So how to…. Dead simple, with both, you want to put the support structure in place early so as not to damage the roots. I tend to do this when I first pot the plants up into their quadgrow pots (final pots or spots in the garden).

Using string

String is the age old method gardeners have used in greenhouses, so much so that greenhouse generally come with predrilled holes for tying your string supports now.

I wrap the string around the root ball of the plant when I am putting it into the pot. I don’t attach it to anything yet, as the plant is quite small, but as the plant grows I will loosely tie this string to the beam on the roof of the greenhouse (so it is vertical) and gently, every few leaves, wrap it once around the stem so that as the tomato grows the string tightened just enough to support the plant. Just enough. You don’t ever want this actually tight as it will cut and damage the stem as the plant grows.

Using stakes

Most often though, we use stakes to support the plants. Just because it’s more convenient and not so “fixed”.

For this we simply just put a stake into the pot when we transplant the baby plants and then as they grow, loosely tie the stem to the stake.

This year however we got some fancy pants new stakes… they are shiny and kinky (include Monty Don joke here). There’s really nothing to them other than they are shiny metal and twirly, that’s it. I just wanted to show them off 🙂

They are kind of a cross between our usual bamboo stakes and string, they are a stake, but they are curved so that we can train the plant around them like we do string. They still take a couple of loose ties though.

But the greenhouse looks like something from an art school degree show now with its sparkly exhibit!.

Check out Monty Don on gardener’s world a few weeks ago for the joke about kinky… referring to his large bean pole, he said a bit of a kin doesn’t do anyone any harm! Middle aged men and women up and down the country swooned, and twitter went mad.

From bald to lush – winning the battle for a lovely lawn

This time last month we let you in on our battle to get the lawn looking lush again after my incident with the fertiliser (and I used too much), which left huge bald, burned patches on the front lawn. Well I’m pleased to say we won that battle and we now have a lovely lush lawn again. It as a pain though because reseeding coincided with the turn in the weather and it got cold and wet. Very wet, meaning instead of sprouting, the seed rotted.

We actually ended up raking and lifting the seed twice before the sun returned and the seed took. I was getting a bit jumpy. We even had some cheeky gardening company put a leaflet through our letterbox (which is clearly marked as no junk mail or unsolicited mail of any kind) promising to take care of our lawn for us and get it green again. That went in the bin! It’s a massive bugbear of mine, why would a company who can’t follow a simple instruction of don’t put junk mail through my door think for a second I’d want to use them?

So all it took was a burst of good old sunshine.

We followed all the instructions we gave you guys. We prepared the ground, raked up any old dead grass, kept the seed watered (well nature took care of that) and waited. It actually ended up taking about 3 weeks to get to where we are now, but the growing bit actually only took about 4 days. Once the weather changed and we started getting some proper warm, sunny days, we saw the seeds start to sprout on a daily basis.

Just a little at first, but it didn’t take long.

We kept our promise and I updated you guys on the hashtag #isthelawngreenyet so you could watch the grass growing 🙂

So I know a few of you were battling along with your lawns at the same time, how did you get on? You brave enough to add to the hashtag?

New raised beds – railway sleepers

I just looked over our old blog posts to see when we installed the raised beds and it gave me a bit of a warm glow. I love going back over the old posts to see how the garden has changed and grown over the years.

Turns out we installed the beds very early on in our gardening adventure.

Back then, we were VERY new to gardening, in fact, this is our first garden ( my balcony doesn’t count), so we were working things out and learning as we went. Still are to be honest.

When we moved into our lovely new home here at Ar Bruidair, we new nothing (you know nothing Jon Snow!). We had seen the raised bed thing on TV and thought it sounded like a convenient thing to do. Boy were we shocked by the amount of work it took to get them going.

Kate putting in the old raised beds way back when…

However, nothing compared to the work that’s gone into replacing them. Sigh, and we’re not finished yet.

So why have we replaced them?

Well simply, the old ones were very cheap and have started to rot, split and fall apart since they were put in. It has been 7 years! We’ve been saying for the last couple of years that we needed to do this, and dreaming that lovely railway sleeper raised beds would be great. We just never got around to actually doing it. Then, with the new greenhouse meaning we no longer needed the sleepers under the greenhouse, an opportunity arose, so to speak.

So the plan….

Well we’ve so far only replaced two (we mentioned in a previous post that we’d made a start). The third is full of strawberries so that will wait until next year when those strawberries are at the end of their life cycle anyway.

We did bed one a couple of weeks ago before the carrots and beetroot were ready to be planted out. Bed two we did last weekend as the courgettes will go in there in a few weeks.

So what was the process?

Boy, was it backbreaking, really. I’ve spent most of this week struggling to move. Why? Well let me tell you.

First job: cut the sleepers to size

Kate took care of the hard work here, but through this we have learned one awesome piece of advice to give you guys so you don’t suffer as we did.

So we had sleepers already, most excellent, meant for the first bed we didn’t have to buy anything. However, they weren’t the right size so had to be cut. Railway sleepers are solid oak and 200mm by 150mm. We (actually Kate) cut the first bed by hand. It was a killer and her hands and shoulder were killing her for days. First piece of advice for you guys, if you are doing this, buy a cheap electrical saw!

Kate marking out where to cut on the railways sleepers

Once the sleepers were cut, we put the first level together on the patio so we could make sure it was square and level. Then put the next level together and squared it all up. We didn’t attach the two layers though.

Next piece of advice: this job is so much easier to do on a nice flat accessible space rather than trying to do this in situ. Oh yes!

Kate building the raised beds from railway sleepers

Job two: empty the beds of soil

You want to completely replace the beds, well it’s gonna be easier if they are empty, so all that soil had to be dug out and put somewhere. A big tarpaulin on the lawn did the trick.

Eli emptying the soil form the raised beds

YAY! Now we can get the new ones in right? Well no… if you go read the original story of us installing the beds, you’ll hear about how uneven the ground was and the half arsed job we did of levelling the original beds.

We decided this time we would try to make a better job, while we had the opportunity. That was a killer.

Job three: level the ground for the beds

We ended up having to dig the back end down about 6 inches on average, it was way more at one side and less at another, as this side of the garden slopes quite a lot. It took forever and our soil is clay so it’s hard going to dig. In the end, the first bed looked awesome, properly level from all angles.

There were gin painkillers that night, let me tell you. So what’s next?

Eli levelling the ground for the raised beds

Job four: put it all back

Now things are level you can put the new beds in place and fill them back up. Hurrah!

A handy, dandy tip for you guys on this. We build the two sections separately, it made it manageable (I won’t say easy) to carry them and put them in place. Once the first layer was in and level, we added the next layer and fixed them in place with huge, big, carriage bolts. They are all nice and securely fastened together now and nothing is going to move these suckers!

So two beds done, third will get done next year. Oh we’re looking forward to doing all of this again! NOT!

new raised beds made from railways sleepers

Our beds have done us so well over the years, we’ve had bounteous harvests of carrots, beetroot, courgettes, salad, broccoli, sprouts, chard, kale, strawberries etc. Here is our homage to our raised beds…