Since I've started gardening in earnest, I've been amazed at the amount of success I've had in actually getting stuff to grow. I find it miraculous, because I started with zero knowledge, a couple of books, a halcyon dream and no real plan other than making it pollinator friendly. But I've also had some huge 'failures' too. Things that haven't grown or went wrong for one reason or another. And yes I've found that highly frustrating when I've followed the instructions and tried my best, all to no avail. I try and bear in mind that gardening is a slow learning process. You learn piecemeal really. There is the knowledge you glean from books and magazines. Or tips that you pick up along the way. There are simple rules that need to be adhered to. The rest is all about giving it a go.
I think that my biggest success has to be growing most of my flowers and veg from seed. I am lucky that I have a small greenhouse. It certainly helps to bring the seeds on, as I'm not sure that my family would be too pleased with seed trays nestled all over the house. My greenhouse is one of my favourite things I have ever had. Marc bought for me about four years ago. Because our garden has a north facing aspect, it lives in the front garden where it gets lots of sunlight.
However I think that some of my success at growing from seed is down to the sheer pleasure I get from the process itself. I love preparing my seed trays with the compost and sowing the seeds, whether it's pushing a broad bean into the soil or scattering tiny flower seeds over the surface. I am very attentive to my little charges once they are all cosy in their seed trays. They don't need a lot of encouragement to get going, but I visit them daily, and there is nothing quite like seeing a shoot push through the soil. You'll often find me poking about the seed trays, looking for signs of life.
It would probably be a lot easier and quicker to go to the garden centre and buy everything as small plugs (and I have been known to), but there is something deeply satisfying about raising from seed. Without sounding like Neil from The Young Ones, I feel a real connection to the plant as it grows and matures, and the pleasure from seeing that same plant thrive is greater for it. It's also much more economical, and you can give things away to your nearest and dearest, and that's also part of the fun.
As the flowers start to die back in the garden, I keep an eye out for ripening seed heads or pods. This year for the first time I have followed the advice of Carol Klein and tied a piece of wool around any flowers that have been particularly attractive and healthy specimens. In this way I have been more selective in gathering seed from the plants I liked the most. The seed is a clone of the parent plant. For example there was a beautiful yellow Snapdragon that flowered this year, and I have gathered seed from it, rather than the sludgy red one that grew next to it. I pop the seeds into little envelopes (I bought some specifically for this purpose in the summer. It was one of my 'happies') and store them in a little wooden box. I am quite chuffed with my growing stock of seeds.
I still buy seeds from the garden centre. I have found some lovely Sarah Raven seeds, that are pollinator friendly. And I do love my annual plants, so they need to be planted every year. It's worth noting that at the end of the summer most garden centres will sell off old stock. I buy lots of packets of seeds this way. There is nothing wrong with them, and I have the same success with them as I do with other seeds. And again it's less expensive this way. Oh and I've also taken seeds from plants in other gardens. My father in law has some lovely early Delphiniums and I have gathered lots of seed from them for next year. They are a beautiful deep blue. I look forward to seeing them in my new border.
This year I think I have been most proud with the success I've had from my Dahlias and my little veg patch down the side of the house. I would love an allotment, but there is only a small one just outside of St Ives, and the waiting list is loooong. So I content myself with a small strip of earth, and rotate and pack the earth accordingly. Beryl and Jean have had their part to play in the fertility of the veggie patch this year. Last winter they scratched and pooped all over it, making the soil rich and well weeded in the process. I have had bumper crops of beans - Broad, Runner, French, Peas, Courgettes, Shallots, Radish, Spring Onions, salad veg and Gooseberries. (I seem to have deleted a lot of my veggie pics. Boo).
The Dahlias were a mixture of new tubers that I bought during garden centre sales, and ones that I had already established in the garden last year. I lifted these from the ground once they had died back and split them to make new plants. I followed a tutorial for that, because I was quite nervous at hacking at those little tubers. I stored them away, and planted them out late Spring.
Dahlias can suffer from frost damage, which is why they get lifted. Luckily we have reasonably mild weather in the South West, so my thinking is that they just need to be lifted to be made into more plants. Again I have tagged the ones that were particularly beautiful for making more plants for next year. It also keeps your plants healthy and vigorous too, which can never be a bad thing. If you live somewhere where you get frost, lift them, wrap them in newspaper and store them somewhere dark and cool for the winter. Then simply plop them back into the ground once the frosts have passed. I plan to grow some for Easter gifts next year. What do you think?
There have been lots of disappointment in the garden this year too.
Rhubarb. Bloody Rhubarb. A plant that will happily grow down a lane at the back of my sister's house, but refuses point blank to grow anywhere in my garden. This year was my third attempt at growing it, and it was another dismal failure. I got nothing. No growth whatsoever. I love Rhubarb, so am very upset at this state of affairs. I plan to research and try again next year. My neighbour has a huge plant and we have swapped. She gives me sticks of Rhubarb and I give her eggs. I have some crumbles in the freezer for proper Sunday roasts. You know the kind, when it's already dark by 4.30pm and the heating is on. I have my crumble and custard once Olly is in bed, while watching Antiques Roadshow. That is why I need a plant to thrive in my garden!! Any advice would be gratefully received.
My Sunflowers always get eaten by the slugs and snails that lurk in the hidden spaces of the garden. Although Beryl and Jean have been very effective in culling these pesky creatures, they still find the Sunflowers and munch their way through the stems. This is vexing as I would dearly love to grow those truly massive ones for Olly to enjoy. The solution seems to be to grow them in pots until they are big enough to withstand any assault from nibbling molluscs. When I was on my French jollies, I was very taken with the smaller bushier variety of Sunflower, and I have bought some seeds of a similar variety. I think that they would be lovely cut and brought into the house, or given as gifts.
Talking of holidays. We went to France just as the UK had a heatwave. Before this it was all going great guns in the greenhouse. There were three types of tomato, Chillies, Peppers, two types of Cucumber, Aubergines, seedlings galore, salad crops, herbs, Strawberries and other bit and bobs. I had already been rewarded with my first salad crops, Cues and Strawberries, and the other plants were maturing nicely. I came back from holiday to a dried up frazzled disaster. I was gutted. My sister in law was upset. She felt responsible. But she works full time and was already looking after Honey and popping into feed the hens and the cat. It certainly wasn't her fault or responsibility.
I don't have any photos of this. But my plans for a seasonal bounty had gone in a week. I became disheartened by it, and barely went into the greenhouse all summer, apart from to clear away what had died and to gather the tomatoes. They had survived. I should have protected the plants with some white wash on the glass panes. This would have deflected some of the heat. I should have thought ahead with some slow release watering systems. I aim to shake off the greenhouse blues this month by preparing seeds trays for winter salads and crops and flowers for next year.
This year I also tried to grow a Pickery. Yes I know it sounds fancy, but in essence all it is is place to pillage for lovely flowers to bring into the house. I have a little raised bed opposite the veggie patch and last year sowed it with a couple of wild flower mixes that did very well. This year I once again sowed direct, but added other flowers into the mix. My mistake was to over sow, and so the area became completely over crowded. In fact the only plant to really thrive was the Nasturtiums. They took over. Another failure. I pulled the lot up last month. Lesson learnt.
So these are some of my success and some of my failures this year. I haven't talked about the Sweet Peas (it is just too traumatic) or my efforts to cover the fence in climbing plants (it's going very well). On balance though, it's all good. Next year will be better. I have learnt so much this year and I'm gaining in confidence. I work within the confines of what I have and what I can afford and what time will allow. I think I'd like to share some future plans with you next time. I have a bit of hard landscaping to do before winter sets in, but hopefully it will be lovely by next summer!
Hope you enjoyed it.