Category Archives: Gardening

Perenial Sweat Peas

I’m a big fan of perennial flowers in the garden as I like to divert most of my limited time to growing vegetables. Nothing says ‘English summer’ quite like a sweet pea in full bloom. Until a couple of years ago sweet peas were one of the few annual flowers I used to grow from seed each year. That all changed when I discovered this perennial variety.

Perenial Sweet Peas

These plants came form seeds that my father saved and gave to me. He in turn was given some seed form one of his best friends (acquiring successful plants in this way is so much more satisfying than going out and buying ready grown, established plants form the garden center).

I’m not 100% sure of the variety but I suspect it is Lathyrus latifolius.

Maintenance is very easy. As they grow in Spring and early Summer I simply tie them up against the pillars which they’re planted near. They grow vigorously and are fairly sturdy so it’s not a fiddly job.

As with most flowers once they start to flower, dead heading will help to encourage more blooms. They provide a constant stream of deep pink flowers right into autumn.

At the end of the summer the plants will dry out and die back. Before cutting them back I take the opportunity to save some seeds and pass on to friends and family.

The only downside to these perennial sweet peas is that they do not have much scent compared to some of the annual varieties I’ve previously grown. Apart from that these should be a must in any English garden.

Speeding up Leaf Mold

Leaf mold differs from compost in that it provides very little actual nutritional value to the soil…so why bother with it at all? Well it’s main benefit is that it is great at improving the structure of your soil. This in turn helps the soil retain water (and other nutrients) and provide a good environment for beneficial life such as worms, bacteria and other organisms.

Unlike compost, which can be a fickle process to get right, making leaf mold is pretty simple. Just sweep up your leaves and dump them in a pile in a shady corner of the garden and let nature do it’s work. The only down side is that it can take a while (up to 2-3 years) for a pile to break down fully from whole leaves to a fine mold texture.

One simple way to speed up the process dramatically is to reduce the size of the leaves before you add them to the pile. If you’ve got a garden shredder you can simply pass your freshly swept leaves through this.

My technique to speed up my leaf mold is to sweep the leaves into a long line on a patio or path and passing over them with a lawn mower. Doing so only takes a few minutes and the end product is a leaf pile that is already partially broken down.

Speeding Up Leaf Mould

Making Leaf Mould

Using this technique I find that the leaf mold is perfectly useable by the following summer. I use the resulting leaf mold both as a mulch as well as a general soil improver which i dig into the vegetable beds are sprinkle over established beds throughout the year.

Improving Vegetable Bed Soil

The soil in our  vegetable beds has been consistently poor over the last couple of years. Always very crumbly it seems very loose and doesn’t hold the moisture (and as a result nutrients) very well at all.

While the soil in the rest of the garden is generally good theses particular beds seem to be the exception. Even the odd top dressing of compost doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the structure of the soil so I thought it about time to add some manure.

The beds are slightly raised and adjacent to a wall. On the other side of the wall are several very large trees that I suspect of draining much of the moisture away.

When we moved in to the house the beds contained various grasses which, with hindsight, indicate that the area isn’t the wettest.

Repairing Dry Loose Soil

So its time to try and improve the structure of the soil and in particular improve its moisture retention. Luckily we leave near to several stables so there is no shortage of horse manure locally.

When adding manure to the garden its always best to add manure that has rotted for a few months if possible. If not it will likely burn your plants as it’ll be far too rich in nitrogen.

If like me you only have a supply of fresh manure then the best time to add it to your soil is in the Autumn. This means it has time to mature before you plant into it next spring.

Improving Soil

To dig or not to dig?

When adding manure there is always the question of whether to dig it in or not. Personally I prefer to simply add a layer (a few inches thick) to the surface of the bed and leave it over winter. To me this has a few benefits over digging it in:

– the rain and worms will gradually draw the nutrients and bulk down into the soil over the winter, saving you the hard work.

– by sitting on top of the bed and acting as a mulch over the winter, weed growth will be kept to a minimum

– the mulching will also retain moisture in the soil over the winter period

– this no dig approach will require less work and the beds will only require a light forking over in the spring as opposed to a severe digging in now

Time to Take Basil Cuttings

After finally discovering the secrets of growing basil last year it is long overdue i started off some more basil plants. The only way to grow basil is on mass so you don’t feel guilty cutting back a whole plant to make a nice fresh pesto. After experimenting with growing from seeds I dind by far the quickest and easiest way is to start off with a supermarket bought basil plant.

I simply take about 15-20 cuttings from the original plant as soon as i get it home and pop them into small glasses of water. They’re left on a bright windowsill that doesn’t get too much direct sun. After 2-3 days this is what you get….

Basil Cuttings

It always amazes me how quickly the roots grow  from these basil cuttings. The above plant is only 5 days old! I’ve just potted up the cuttings into regular compost to grow on. I usually pinch out the tops after 2-3 weeks of further growth to help the plants bush out.

I’ve found the real secret to growing basil is to no let it have too much direct sunlight. In our kitchen we have a small dormer window that get plenty of light but not too much direct – only an hour or so in the morning. It seems to be the perfect place to grow basil. Hopefully it won’t be long before pesto is on the menu…

Mollusc Madness

The wet weather we’ve been having recently  has unfortunately meant that conditions have been ideal for slugs and snails to thrive. We’ve quite lucky to have quite a good population of birds that feast on these molluscs. Quite a few time recently I’ve seen a song thrush pull out snails from an ivy bush and proceed to smash their shells open before dispatching them.

If you believe the BBC then an invasion of so called Spanish super slugs is to blame, the wet weather certainly hasn’t helped. On Sunday I was pretty disappointed to see that the local molluscs had demolished our window box salads, completely.

Desimated Salad CropSalad Growing Apple Crate

Luckily they didn’t get inside the apple crates at our Romaine lettuces which have been loving the wet weather and are thriving. So, it’s time to get some more seed in, hopefully in time for some drier weather to arrive!

Chop the Chives

There are not many flowers as stunning as chive flowers. As you can see below our chives have been growing really well this year and have been producing stunning flowers for about the last five weeks. As well as looking great the flowers are really edible and add a wonderful allium fragrance to a salad or on top of a pizza.

Chive Flowers

Unfortunately the photo above was taken a week or so ago and the display is now over and the plant is getting a bit ‘woody’. As a result it’s now time to take the shears to it and prune it back hard to the ground to encourage some new growth.

Actually this plant has been in the ground for 2 years now and has grown rigorously. In order to stop it taking over the herb garden and et some new younger growth i may well split it. Though I’ve not actually done so before I believe its a simple case of digging up the clump, splitting the bulbs into a couple of clumps and replanting at the same depth.

Growing Salad in Window Boxes

You can’t beat wandering out into the garden armed with a pair of scissors and coming back a few minutes later with enough fresh veg for a nice healthy salad to accompany your evening meal.

After encountering so many issues with slugs and snails munching my ground planted salads I’ve really taken to planting mixed salad leaves in containers…specifically old metal window boxes.

Mixed Salad in Window Boxes

Mixed Salad in Window Boxes-2

In the window boxes above I’ve got rocket in one and mixed leaves in the other.They only take a couple of weeks to get to the stage when you can start picking leaves. Once they get going I find just a couple of boxes is plenty  enough to keep us in salad. Invariably we neglect to pick them and they bolt or go to seed. When this happens I simply assign them to the compost bin and start again.

As well as regular lettuce leaves other options I’m a fan of are pak choi, beetroot, radish, spinach and chard. So long as you pick the leave while they are nice and young they all make interesting, tasty and colourful salads.


Borlotti Bungle

Twice in previous years I’ve made the mistake of planting bush type borlotti beans thinking they were climbers. Well, despite the packet clearly stating they are climbers i think I’ve only gone and done it again. After shooting up in the last two weeks it looks like they’re not going to get any taller.

Borlotti Bungle 1Borlotti Bungle 2

So called climbing borlotti beans

In order to avoid disappointment I’ve put in a few runner bean seeds in and around the pots the borlotti’s are in so I should have a few beans climbing up the nice tripods I made out of bamboo canes and twine.




More Sweet Peas

Having pinched out my sweet peas a couple of weeks ago I planted them out around a couple of wooden tripods which we bought a few weeks ago at a local gardening show.

Unfortunately disaster struck as a small rabbit managed to sneaks it’s way in to our walled garden and proceeded to munch it’s way through the sweet pea tips as well as a few other trays of seedlings I’d carelessly left out on the patio.

After getting it’s way into the garden it appeared the furry intruder was stuck inside and after a few sightings over a few days I battled in vein to catch the furry captive!

sweet peas nibbled by a rabbit

After about 5 days I managed to trap the offending rabbit behind the garden shed and with the help of a flower pot and a piece of wood I scooped it up and it was released into a ditch down the road.

Luckily I’d got a second batch of sweet peas in the greenhouse which I’d planted directly from seed into some home made pots made from old newspapers. As you can see from the pictures the newspaper pots have worked really well and the roots of the sweet peas are bursting through them so its a great time to get them planted out in the ground.

sweet peas 2nd batchHome made newspaper potsrecycled newspaper pots

The pots were incredibly easy to make, I just rolled 2 sheets of newspaper around the end of a rolling pin and scrunched over to form the bottom of the pot. The idea is they will simply compost away once planted out, allowing the roots to grow through them.

sweet peas around a tripod

I’m not sure which variety this second batch of sweet peas is, they seem a lot thinner and more delicate than the original batch pictured above. Hopefully now the rabbit has been dispatched they’ll flourish and put on a good show of fragrant color in a few weeks time.