End of month view, March 2017


There’s quite a bit flowering now, bulbs and bushes. I’m not sure how but we still have three magnolias, used to have five. The one behind the polytunnel is Vulcan and it’s slowly falling over. It might be possible to push it back up and prop it, I hope so. The plum tree on its right is flowering well this year. Need to prune that a bit in the next few weeks.


Magnolia ‘Vulcan’


The weather has taken a turn for the worse again, it was quite good earlier, now the wind and rain are back. It’s that time of year. If I’d been more organised I’d have put an entry into the Cornwall Spring Show, it being just up the road from here. I just popped out and took pictures of my various camellias, I think I would have managed to enter a few classes. Too late now.


Top row: Mystique, Tinker Bell, Minato-no-akebono, Bob Hope                                  Second row: Bob’s Tinsie, Annette Carol, Kokinran, Charles Colbert

Lots of things are pushing through the ground and confirming that they survived the winter. Some are not and the worrying begins. Ginger family things are always late, Roscoeas, Hedychium and Zingiber in my case. I’ve seen a rapid increase in slugs just in the past week or so, bane of my life. The torch and secateurs evening routine needs to get started.

Slugs are very selective, some very delicate looking plants are untouched. You’d think someone could work out what deters the little buggers and bottle it. Adiantum venustum is a very delicate looking but remarkably tough fern that is never eaten. The white flowers are of Pachyphragma macrophyllum, good in shade and seeds about somewhat.


Crûg Farm Nursery will be at Boconnoc for the Cornwall Spring Show, last year’s purchases included Chrysoplenium davidianum, which has grown remarkably well considering it looked like it was dying of drought most of last summer. I have a few blue wood anemones, labels long since vanished.


I follow a few allotment blogs and I cannot understand how at this time of year people have loads of empty space for all their seedlings. Every bit of covered space I have is stuffed with overwintering fuchsias, sprouting dahlias, tender camellias and much else. There is never enough room for growing and spacing seedlings. So they get put outside wherever possible. This lot will have to go back in though, before the weather trashes them.


As ever, I am spurred into monthly action in order to be part of Patient Gardener Helens end of month meme. Check out hers and everyone else’s contributions at https://patientgardener.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/end-of-month-view-march-2017/


What I think I know about soil.

Soil is the stuff I grow most of my plants in, the ones I don’t grow in pots.
It is derived from the local rock, soft slatey stuff, small bits of which are visible and sometimes abundant in the soil. Everybody describes it as “shilletty”.

If I analysed the distribution of article sizes I would obtain a description of my soils texture. In other words, a more scientific word than shilletty. I would imagine there to be a wide spread of particle sizes without any one of them dominating to make it “sandy” or “clay”. I doubt whether there is much of a clay fraction and there are none of the hard, round, even sized particles that define a sandy soil.

I garden this stuff, mostly by no-dig methods, spreading compost on the surface and growing my plants in it. When I was on my allotment a few days back, pulling up weeds, they came up very easily from the beds, the soil being loose and crumby. No, I haven’t left the L out of crumbly, though it was that too, what I mean is that the mineral and organic particles of the soil had become crumby, small lumps roughly wheat grain sized, with lots of air space between them. This is my soil’s structure.

The paths where I walk were quite different. Much harder to get the weeds out and with no structure discernible. I have to say it didn’t seem to be deterring the weeds much, but I wouldn’t want to try and grow lettuce in it. It is pretty easy to turn the crumby stuff of the beds into the compacted stuff of the paths, just walk up and down on it when it’s wet.

I know what I want, nice crumby stuff and I know how to get it, top dress with compost and stay off it. My plants grow well in it so they are getting all they need, anchorage, water, air and nutrients.

The soil ecology has turned my mineral matter and organic matter into a perfect growing medium, with very little effort on my part. Lucky me.

But. I worked on a nursery for many years before I retired and grew a very wide range of plants in pots, using peat for well over a decade before switching to peat-free for a similar period. The aim is to provide ideal conditions for plant growth, albeit in the artificial confines of a pot and with the environmental control afforded by a polytunnel. So I know that you can provide excellent conditions for plant roots to grow in with no soil ecology at all. For much of my career a chemical was added to kill vine weevil grubs and the added fertilizer would have seen off any myccorhizal fungi.

People grow plants by hydroponics, they build golf greens and football pitches from 100% dune sand (even particle size, no packing) and they garden in a myriad of different conditions across the globe. It may be soil science but it sure ain’t rocket science. The plants don’t need the soil bacteria or fungi or worms, they need the conditions that the bacteria, fungi and worms create.

Which is not to say there is no interaction between plants and soil life. The energy powering the whole system is coming from the sun, the plants capture it by photosynthesis and are basically the food source for the rest of the soil web. The soil organisms must exact some level of toll on the plants, but the plants will be happy to pay a small price for the good growing conditions they get in return.

Nor does it seem likely to me that nothing except dissolved plant nutrients in the soil water get taken up by the roots. I know that soil applied pesticides and herbicides pass into the plant. Of all the myriad organic chemicals that must be present in soils as organic matter is broken down, it seems likely that some will be taken up by plants. I am unaware of any consequences from this happening or from it not happening in sterile media.

I have never had my soil analysed, either in my garden or at my allotment. Someone else at the allotments did, there were all sorts of things above or below where they should have been. I never saw the report and neither did my onions, which seemed to do very well last year without knowing. I apply generous quantities of compost, which includes all our vegetable kitchen waste, a little fertiliser and occasional water. Perhaps it could be better still with the addition of something I am unaware is lacking but I shall probably never know.

It would be very hard to persuade me that adding anything other than the basic plant nutrients that I know are required in significant quantities would bring a cost effective benefit. I won’t be buying any rock dust, or compost enhancers, or myccorhizal fungi or beneficial bacteria. I have all of these things already, in my soil.

It’s worth bearing in mind that even humus, sacred cow of gardeners forever and then some, probably doesn’t exist. Glomalin may be a real thing, but isn’t beyond doubt yet it seems.

I was brought up as a digger. Digging creates a tilth, which works as a short term alternative to good structure, but in a few months collapses. It causes loss of organic matter by oxidation, damages soil structure, brings weed seeds to the surface and makes your back ache. It no longer makes much sense.

Having said which, when I first took on my plot, I trenched it end to end, turning the soil upside down. The surface weeds and seeds ended up 40cm or more down. By and large, that’s where they stayed. In the long run it saved me work. Would I do the same again? I think I probably would.

Allotment note 13/3/2017

There’s very much a sense of the season accelerating; that transition from not enough to too much to do. This was my week, as far as veg goes.

5/3/17 Planted potatoes Charlotte and Kestrel. I planted Kestrel 18/3 lst year and they were fine so I should be OK. I’ve put more Kestrel in pots to go out when Purple Curly Kale gives up. There’s 3 inches of compost where they are planted, which I shall use for earthing up, maybe with more added if needed.

My fruit bushes are breaking bud, I gave them a lightish feed with Vitax Q4HN.

Today I sowed Pea Meteor on the plot. Not grown it before. My one attempt at autumn sowing failed, in Cornwall too many slugs are active all winter I think. I’ve put mesh over the top to deter mice, though I haven’t had problems in the past.


Peas protected, hopefully, from mice.


Also sowed, in pots, Lettuce Red Salad Bowl, Black Seeded Simpson and Lollo Rosso as well as Cucumber Carmen. I’ve planted my Rumba Onion sets in cell trays to get them started.

To the right of the peas in the picture is an area where I spread some finely shredded leaves in the autumn. They have done an excellent job of protecting the soil beneath but haven’t broken down at all. If repeated it needs to be a very thin topping, they are a bit in the way of planting and sowing. I’m slightly surprised it didn’t blow away.

Allotment note 4/3/17

Sowed Onion ‘Liria’ in seed tray, on prop bench at 25C.
Pricked off Leeks ‘Musselburgh’ sown 5/2 into 4L pot. Will plant out when bigger. This was an early sowing, will do another soonish.
Pricked off Tomato ‘Sungold’ into 9cm pots. In Sylvamix peat free with 2.5g/L CRF added. Back on window ledge.


Tomatoes on the window ledge. South facing, so mustn’t allow to dry out.


Up the plot removed Flowersprouts, which have been good but now running to flower. Mulched area with compost. Early potatoes will go in very soon, pretty much on soil surface beneath mulch. ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Kestrel’ chitting now, the former bought, the latter saved from last year’s harvest. I’ll be doing a few of each in pots in polytunnel.


Flowersprouts going to seed; will get shredded and composted.


Six 35L tubs of compost on bed already mulched in autumn.


Eight tubs of compost where Flowersprouts removed. Purple curly kale good for a while yet. Garlic at right of picture and Russian Purple kale, top middle, looking pretty good.

Allotment note 3/3/17

img_2142bToday I received a few packets of seed from The Real Seed Catalogue. I picked up on them on Charles Dowding’s blog and wanted to try them out.

Salads were a success last year in the sense that we ate almost all I grew and could have done with more, especially into autumn and winter. Thus I ordered Giant Goosefoot, which looks colourful, winter lettuce and perennial sorrel Belleville.

I fancied having another go at onions from seed and Liria was described as having done well in Wales; I figured it could do well in Cornwall. Must sow them tomorrow. I also got Runner bean The Czar, thinking to focus on getting ripe seeds for winter soups and stews. They will hybridise with all the other runners on the allotment site but I might still keep and sow some out of curiosity.

I love that they’ve sent with the seeds advice on collecting seed for each of the things I’ve bought. I just might give it a go.


End of month view – February 2017


I do like a different viewpoint. You get very familiar with your own garden and it can get difficult “to see oursels as ithers see us”. I know the top viewpoint very well, but the bottom one I find much more engaging as it’s unfamiliar. I find myself looking closely at it, noticing patterns and relationships I’d been unaware of. All of this may be lost on you, being unfamiliar with both views. I just suggest you try for yourself.

For me the mood that characterises this time of year is impatience. So much is beginning to move but is actually not much further on from a month ago and wont be much further on in a months time. Then summer comes and it’s all over too soon. There seems to have been a lot of dull, cold and wet weather in February and I haven’t spent a great deal of time in the garden. I suspect there was a time when I’d have put on a coat and hat and got on with it.

I do love my daily circumnavigation at this time of year; almost every day is rewarded with something new being spotted re-emerging or opening a bloom. I gave away a huge chunk of Trachystemon last year and it’s back twice the size this. Great in dry shade I’m told.


Trachystemon orientalis

I keep reading blogs where people are talking about putting in more bulbs. The only daffs that succeed with us are in pots. Not a single one remains of all the hundreds that have gone into the ground over the years. I’m planting more cyclamen though, they seem to seed happily enough. Muscari do too, almost too much, I’m trying to get different sorts to extend the season. Erythroniums too, I think might be a winner, slugs permitting.

And my camellias are flowering, so I’m a happy bunny.


Camellia ‘Adorable’ and a pot of daffodils.

Right, off now to check out other gardeners contributions to The Patient Gardeners end of month meme. Come along, it’s always fascinating.