Allotment update – 22/5/2018

The weather has been settled for a week or two, so I’m more or less up to date on where I want to be on my plot. Peas, potatoes and parsnips are the only things I’ve sown directly on the plot, everything else has been raised under glass and planted out. Peas and potatoes are up and away, parsnips were late to go in, on 8th May, and are not showing yet.

I’ve been watering newly planted stuff every two or three days until well established, then largely backing off.


It’s all pretty functional. I don’t have raised beds, just beds about a metre wide with half metre paths between them. I have enough carpet strips to cover about half the paths. They stay put until the weeds are dead then get moved to another section. For the life of me I cannot see what advantage raised beds would give me. It would just be more work, more expense and more places for slugs to hide. Better to leave the trees standing. Lettuce, peas, broad beans and Rhubarb are in the foreground.

The two enviromesh tunnels are covering cabbages. Last year I was wiped out by cabbage rootfly, in spite of using paper collars. This year so far I have had no such problems, though several small plants were eaten off within days of planting, probably by slugs. The carpet strips are holding down the mesh, which is laid over 4mm wire hoops.


I have pulled back the mesh here to replace the eaten cabbages, fortunately I had a few spares. The very dark lettuce is Oakleaf Navarro, which I shall certainly grow again. When it is gone, I will fit in another row of brassicas. I should have removed the primrose, but until recently it was very pretty.


The plot is divided into three sections, the fruit cage to the right of this picture, plus the two vegetable plots separated by a windbreak. I have my runners along the top of this section; that way they don’t shade anything else.
The left hand bed is planted with seed raised onions, next are onions from sets, variety Rumba, then garlic and finally carrots. I removed a block of garlic Solent Wight yesterday from where the fork is because it was riddled with rust. The four rows are Provence, which held out for a while but then went down with it too. The four large plants at the bottom are Elephant Garlic and at the moment they are clean.

The carrots were raised in one litre deep pots and planted out with minimal disturbance as soon as they had enough root to hold together. I will dig them as clumps. The only problem last year was that they pushed up above the soil a bit; this year I have planted them a little deeper.

In the top half of the bed are courgettes and sweet corn Earlyking, both planted in the last few days. The Charlotte potatoes were planted 9th April and need earthing up. As a no digger I tried just covering them with a deep layer of compost last year. It wasn’t very successful, encouraging slugs and not covering the potatoes effectively.

It’s tempting providence to say so, but the season is going well, having got off to a shaky start.



Six on Saturday – 19/5/2018

I’m in the habit of writing my Saturday posts on Fridays but here we are, Saturday morning and nothing done. Good thing the sun is shining and early morning photos can be taken.

Chillies. I sowed three sorts and put them on a south facing windowsill on 3/3/18. Two sorts, ‘Apache’ and ‘Ring of Fire’, germinated 100% and were pricked out into 9cm pots, ten of each. When they outgrew those, I moved them on into 1L pots, kept six of each on the windowsill and put the remaining four in the greenhouse. Today I shall pot on the sixes and move them to the greenhouse and move the fours, which have fallen behind in growth, back to the sunny windowsill.

Dahlias (1). I left all my Dahlias in the ground over winter, covering each with a mound of leaves. A few weeks back I removed the leaves and very slowly, shoots have been pushing up. It’s been a nervous time as they are very vulnerable to slugs or an unexpectedly cold night, but they seem almost all to be under way. A couple are still to show.

Dahlias (2). I have two trays of Dahlia seedlings from seed I collected from my own plants last year. I think these are ‘Veritable’, the others are ‘Orange Cushion’. I was very surprised at the quality and range of colours I got from a batch I did from ‘Orange Cushion’ a couple of years back, it’s encouraged me to do more. Allotment two is becoming a trial ground.

I imagine most gardeners see little wrong in liberating seed when it is otherwise going to drop to the ground and be lost. These came from a nearby park. I had long wanted the yellow candelabra primula; it was P. helodoxa when I was a lad. P. smithiana, P. prolifera, P. ianthina, Aleuritia prolifera and P. prolifera subsp. smithiana all seem to get a look in these days.
They get tall, 3ft., and are a lovely clear yellow. I don’t care what they’re called.

Spiraea japonica ‘Abigail’. In nursery days I found a few yellow leaved seedlings of Spiraea growing in the gravel beds, presumably progeny of one of the two or three forms we were selling at the time. I rescued them, potted them up and eventually picked the best of them to plant at home. From that we took cuttings and sold quite a few in the nursery, though the name was never registered officially. This is the original plant, still in my garden and very bright at this time of year. Abigail, my niece, was a toddler then; she’s at Uni now. She’s very bright at all times of year.SOS425

The allotment doubles as a trial ground and the garden doubles as a production facility for flowers suitable for pressing, drying and making up into cards. Here are some of the montages/collages that Sue makes up before sticking them onto cards. She uses a flower press that goes in the microwave, does the pressing in minutes. She sells them at craft fairs; handmade, absolutely unique and too cheap.


Right, it’s way too nice to be sat indoors at the computer, I have much to do in the garden. I don’t doubt there’ll be a growing list of links to other sixes appended to host The Propagator’s weekly dispatch. Following them may have to wait till later, but follow them I will and you should too.

Six on Saturday – 12/5/2018

SOS402So impressed was I with the Hardy Plant Society’s plant sale in Truro last weekend that I have now joined the Hardy Plant Society. Who knows, by next year I might be back there as a seller. I nearly added “rather than a buyer” but I bet most of the sellers spend as much on other peoples stalls as they take on their own.
This weekend sees the Plant Heritage Spring Fair at Rosemoor; damn, more expense. While the OH is snapping up lilies for a quid at Morrisons, I’m trying to support the British Nursery Industry, well the little guys anyway.

Chelidonium majus ‘Flore Pleno’. Well this one cost me nothing, a gift from another gardener. It seeds around freely, so lends itself to being given away. I planted one last year, I now have two. I worry that it might spread exponentially and that I’ve let loose yet another monster. The single flowered form grows in the hedgerows hereabouts, looks a bit like a buttercup. It may be native but was probably introduced by herbalists, who used its latex, which is orange and toxic, to treat eye problems and warts. There is no way I’d let anyone near my eyes with something like that.

Holboellia brachyandra HWJ1023. Another Crûg plant, collected by Wynn-Jones and Dan Hinkley on Fan-si-pan, North Vietnam’s highest mountain. Mine doesn’t resemble the description in Hinkley’s book and I think is probably seed raised from fruit on their first generation plants. Mine doesn’t set seed, not having another plant to pollinate it. It is monoecious, with separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The females are slightly larger, with sepals (it being sepals not petals that are its ornamental feature) up to 2.5cm long, barely a third the size that Hinkley claims. They are very pale lilac in colour, the males a little darker and more bell shaped. There is quite a strong perfume, pleasant to my nostrils but please don’t ask me to be your guide when it comes to scent. Of Cantaloupe melon, according to one writer; I wouldn’t know, I don’t do melons.
There are very few evergreen climbers; if you want one, this has to be one to consider.

Maianthemum racemosum subsp. amplexicaule ‘Emily Moody’. I don’t know what sets ‘Emily Moody’ apart as a selection. Compared to my other form of Maianthemum racemosum (was Smilacina racemosa) it is taller at about 75cm, has broader leaves and is about a week later in flower. Last year it seemed to have a much stronger scent, this year they seem much the same. Like Lily of the Valley, in any event. This is a robust, easy, reliable perennial that wants light shade and a bit of moisture. Slugs don’t seem to touch it, which in this garden is gold dust.

Corydalis ochroleuca. For many years we had a single plant of this. It would live two or three seasons and die, having produced a single self sown sproglet somewhere near. The cycle repeated many times. Now we have a few more and we get carpets of seedlings very few of which get to flowering size. It flowers for months, as well as having pretty foliage. We have a very nice clump growing right underneath our Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’, on the shady side. It chose to grow there, if I’d have planted it there you may certain it would have died.

Melica uniflora ‘Variegata’. This is a delicate looking small grass happy in woodland conditions. It spreads very slowly and looks pretty jaded by late summer. At its best in the spring I wonder why I don’t have more of it.

Disporum bodinieri. A HPS sale purchase. I need to be careful not to get any more like this; as much as I might like them, I now have four that are really rather similar. There’s a world of different stuff out there and only so much space for me to put it in.


So that’s another six. At this time of year there is so much happening and happening so quickly, I want to do another six on Sunday. I’ll stick them on the end as outtakes. It means there’ll be loads happening in everyone elses gardens too, so head for comments on The Propagator’s posting for links to many more sixers.


At this time of year I’m putting a lot of plants into pots. This will include sowing seeds, pricking off seedlings, potting up young plants from the propagator, potting on plants into bigger pots and potting up plants that have been dug from the ground.

As an ex nurseryman, I know that professional growers do not generally use the type of composts available in garden centres. When I left the industry around four years ago, most nursery stock was still being grown in moss peat, coming from Ireland, Finland or the Baltic states. To this would be added a controlled release fertilizer and ground magnesian limestone. Fine peats and green waste don’t have the right physical properties in terms of water retention and air filled porosity at field capacity.

The nursery where I worked had been using peat alternatives for its own production for over 20 years. The main supplier in this area is Melcourt, whose composted wood waste product has been developed over many years and is capable of producing results comparable to peat. We bought directly from them and from a compost producer who used their raw materials in their product.

For the last few years they have been retailing their basic compost, Sylvagrow, as a retail product but it is exactly the same as the bulk professional material we were using on the nursery. We added to it a 12-14 month controlled release fertilizer which fed the plant for a growing season and into the spring of the following year, by which time the plant would hopefully have been sold.

My local retail nursery grows the bulk of what it sells and it does so in Sylvagrow. They sell the 50 litre bags of Sylvagrow at £18 for three. That is cheaper than my nearest horticultural sundries wholesale supplier. They charge a little more for the ericaceous version, at around £9 a bag.


Controlled release fertilizer is never an ingredient of retail composts for the simple reason that it has to be mixed in immediately before being used. Once it is mixed, it starts to release fertilizer and if it is not removed, either being taken up by a growing plant or washed out by heavy watering, it can quite quickly build up to phytotoxic levels.

There are other ways of feeding plants but CRF’s ensure that the plant has the right amount of nutrients available to it for the whole season, all from the granules mixed in before potting.

Last year I had plans for this year that have not come to fruition. It seemed like a sensible thing to do to buy a 25kg bag of 8-9month Osmocote. It wasn’t. I could have bought 3kg on eBay for £22.45. Presumably someone is breaking down 25kg bags and reselling it in smaller quantities. You can get various formulations. It has to be kept dry and it has to kept airtight or it can absorb moisture from the air.


So I have my Sylvagrow and I have my Osmocote. I measure 20 litres of compost into a medium sized sack and add Osmocote at between 2.5 and 4 grams per litre, give it a good shake around to mix it thoroughly and use it within a day or two. I have a small electronic balance that weighs to a tenth of a gram. Bought online for a few quid. I can mix one litre of compost if that’s all I need.


I use Sylvagrow compost as is for seed sowing and for growing things in cells, direct sown or pricked off, which covers most of my veg production. If it needs supplementary feeding I use Maxicrop Triple. For just about everything else, from 9cm pots upwards, I use it with CRF added. It works for me.


Six on Saturday – 5/5/2018

The Propagator’s weekly missiveIt’s one day shy of a year since I did my first SoS post. My first item then is my first item now, with the next two items also having featured before. The next three are new. It’s inevitable as the season starts round again that repetition will occur and it will be interesting to compare the progress of plants from last year to this. Some won’t be coming back, having failed to make it through the winter. I hope that checking back to what I posted on a given date last year is not the point when I realise something is no longer there. It’s bound to happen.
Not that losing plants is really my biggest problem. I just got back from the Hardy Plant Society plant sale in Truro, with nine more plants I didn’t need. There are times when I need saving from myself, but at that sort of event you know you have to grab stuff or you’ll never see it again and will rue the missed opportunity.SOS396

Camellia of the week, and the last for this spring, is ‘Night Rider’. It was raised in New Zealand by the late Os Blumhardt, who also produced Magnolia ‘Star Wars’. Just those two would have been enough to establish his reputation but he bred many more, notably Vireya Rhododendrons.
‘Night Rider’ is very slow; nevertheless my plant is now about six feet tall and flowers profusely every year. The new growth is a sumptuous glossy purple-red colour and will probably get an outing here later on.

Rhododendron ‘Merganser’. This was one of a series of Rhododendrons bred by the Cox family at Glendoick. It qualifies as a dwarf, though our plant, which is probably about twenty years old, is about three feet high and as much across. It’s very pretty but the flower display, from start to finish doesn’t stretch to a fortnight. The shortness of their flowering partly explains why the various Rhododendrons we’ve had and lost or removed, have not been replaced. I’m recalling ‘St Breward’, augustinii ‘Electra’, ‘Goldkrone’ and ‘Percy Wiseman’; it’d be easy to get nostalgic.

Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’. This is a truly fabulous plant and everyone who has a moist shady spot somewhere should be growing it. Anything that grows in moist conditions without getting consumed by slugs is worth knowing about and they don’t touch this. The leaves, which are not yet fully expanded, are ten inches across. Later it will have dark red flowers hanging beneath them where you can’t see them. I’ve planted the similar Podophyllum ‘Kaleidescope’ beside it in the hope of getting seeds. That for some mysterious reason, appeals to gastropod tastes much more.

The first of a couple of ferns is Adiantum venustum. It looks just as delicate as the houseplant maidenhair fern and it is hard to believe that this is a very tough plant. Ideally it wants moist soil in light shade but it will put up with dry conditions and deep shade. When happy it spreads quite quickly. I’ve not found it easy to propagate, it doesn’t like disturbance. My best results have been around now, when it is in growth, cutting sections a couple of inches square and trying to disturb the roots as little as possible.

I have quite a few ferns, most of which take a turn as “my favourite” at around this time of year when they produce their new growth. Athyrium nipponicum comes in various flavours; I have found this one, ‘Athyrium nipponicum ‘Burgundy Glow’, to be the most robust. ‘Ursula’s Red’, growing next to it, has never thrived and ‘Red Beauty’, at the other side of the garden, has been swamped by bluebells. The colouring on this one is superb at this time of year and holds up well for a few months. It is completely deciduous.

Another shade lover to finish. Disporum sessile f. macrophyllum BSWJ4316 is another of Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones’ collections. It gets about 18 inches tall in the garden; when it was in a pot in a polytunnel it added another foot to that. It does suffer some slug damage, there are a couple in the picture, but considering it is immersed in Corydalis it could be much worse. The flowers are about 4cms long, quite large for the genus.

It’s a lovely time of year to be doing a blog like this one, with lots to choose from. It all seems to happen very quickly though, so I’ll append a few photos that didn’t make the cut.
By this time on a Saturday morning, it’s a safe bet that lots of links to other sixes will have been added to the comments below The Propagator’s weekly missive. Reading them may have to wait, I have gardening to do and the sun is shining.

The tools for the job.

Fight your way into my garden shed, or my allotment shed and you will find a set of tools common to most other similar sheds. I have a couple of spades and forks, three different rakes, edging shears and hedge cutting shears, a strimmer and a pressure washer and a shredder.

What I also have, and would not be without since I find them most useful, is a range of less common tools. Some are professional kit from my job as a nurseryman, others just picked up along the way. Let me tell you about them.


The knife in this picture dates from my student days, forty odd years ago. It is a Tina grafting knife, specifically one designed for T budding, though I have never done a T bud with it. I use it for taking cuttings and have used it for veneer grafting and chip budding. It will take and keep a very sharp edge, easily keen enough to shave the hairs from my arm and is strong enough to cut through hard material without flinching. I sharpen it with the diamond stone on the right.

The secateurs are probably no more than fifteen years old, my student days pair having been lost at some point. Had they not been I am confident I would be using them still and I would like to think that someone else is doing just that. Felco were the only name in town amongst professionals until Niwaki appeared on the scene relatively recently. The patent for the Felco design must have expired many years ago because there are a great many very similar looking secateurs available. Don’t be fooled, the quality is in the materials. I find the holster very useful, it means I don’t put them down very often, always a risky thing to do. The double sided diamond sharpener on the left is much older than the secateurs and has sharpened a great many pairs of secateurs, not to mention kitchen knives, scissors, shears and so on.

I have nothing against Niwaki tools, I have not used them and have no need for another pair of secateurs.


If the first set of tools relate to the refined, skillful end of the horticultural spectrum, this set of implements relates to the brute force and bloody ignorance end. I don’t do fencing for a living, perish the very thought, but if you want to put a post a decent depth into the ground you want a two handled shovel such as the one on the left here. If you don’t put your posts deep into the ground, by which I mean three feet minimum, they are unlikely to remain upright unless you concrete them in. Which is fine, until you come to replace them.

The bar in the middle, six feet long, flat at one end, pointed at the other, breaks up the hard ground and stones so the shovel can lift it out of the hole. I sharpened the flat end and went through the root system of a sizable tree to put in one post for the fence I did last week. It’s just as useful for levering stubborn roots out of the ground, moving heavy rocks and anywhere else where a simple lever can give you a lot of power.

The spade I got for a fiver at a trade show. They just didn’t want to take it home with them. The shaft broke and I replaced it with a slightly longer one. The narrowness and rounded end of the blade means it penetrates ground much easier than an ordinary spade. I use it for cutting round things prior to lifting them with a normal spade and I use it for planting. I also use it for the first foot of post holes and if I had narrow trenches to dig it would be perfect.


I didn’t in fact buy this. It was given me by someone who had no use for it. Well I do. I shall be tying in my tomatoes, cucumbers, standard fuchsias and no doubt much else with it. Its first outing was for a young and very wayward camellia. So fast compared to tying with string. There’s a knack to using it that seems to defeat some people completely.


Buy yourself a decent trowel, with a proper forged thingy connecting the blade to the handle. The narrow one is great for weeding out deep rooted weeds with minimal disturbance to the stuff around.


I bought this when I decided to pave most of the paths around my garden. I wanted to cut 600 x 600 slabs to create curves. With a stone cutting blade this was perfect and for around 50 quid it didn’t seem worth hiring something, knowing I’d need it for a few weeks. I’ve cut a few slabs since, quite a few floor tiles, with a tile cutting blade, and I use it with the grinding disc shown to sharpen the blade on my shredder.


What you need from a watering can is the right capacity, so you can lift it but it holds a respectable amount; reach, so you can get to the plants at the back without leaning too far over and a rose that delivers a fine but very dense spray, applying lots of water quickly but gently. It also needs the carrying handles in the right place for good balance. I have two of these and one or both gets used practically every day from spring until autumn. They and the secateurs share the honours for the highest mileage in my tool kit.

Do you have tools that you would not be without? What vital kit have I overlooked?

Six on Saturday – 28/4/2018

SOS381Ah the joys of retirement. I’ve enjoyed a full week of gardening this week, a bit like being at work. I had three fairly major things I wanted to get done. First was to lift some Camellias from my allotment and pot them before it was too late to do it. Done, 13 in all. Next was to replace a broken fence post. Done, but with little job satisfaction; three hours of hard graft, digging and breaking concrete, replacing the post and nailing it all back together again and it just looks the same as before it broke.

The third project was to extend the fence I’d put up some years back to run the full length of the end of the garden. The previous occupant was an old lady who was nearly blind and never came into the garden. The new lot have cleared the garden and we felt very overlooked; they probably did too. The fence is along the top of the Cornish hedge, our plot was once the corner of a field, and is styled to block the view completely while allowing wind and to some extent, plant growth, free passage. It looks new but will quickly mellow. The last picture shows Pieris coming through from next door on the older section. The posts are a metre in the ground, no concrete was involved.

Camellia of the week is C. japonica ‘Eximea’. This is a very old variety, around 200 years old, but as you can see, is a real performer. In fact it is much better than a very new and rather similar variety that in one of my moments of early stage dementia I bought and planted nearby. I need to scrap that one and move this one into its place. I’ll do it dreckly, as they say around here. (That means at some indeterminate point in the future, for those of you for whom English is your first language)

Uvularia perfoliata. Perfoliate bellwort. There are shady parts to my garden and I try to exploit them to the full. All too often the slugs have different ideas, but not with this beauty, which they leave alone. There’s a quiet, understated beauty to very many woodland plants which I love and which this early contributor typifies. Just a few weeks ago nothing was showing; almost overnight it seemed to shoot up and flower, reaching about a foot in height.

Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’ is one of the toughies of a large and intriguing genus. My plant is now spreading quite quickly and I am not allowed to curtail its enthusiasm because its flowers press well and get used for pressed flower cards by the OH. I chopped off all the old leaves about a month back and now have beautifully marbled new ones to accompany the few flowers that have been left!

Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ is an astonishingly bright yellow, presumably without much chlorophyll, which might lead you to expect it to somewhat lack vigour. Not a bit of it; I just chopped off a big chunk to give to a gardening friend and to stop it spreading into the plant next to it. My only criticism is that in rain it flops quite badly.

Many of the big and well known gardens in Cornwall are emphatically spring gardens, dominated by Rhododendrons, Magnolias and Camellias. You don’t have to plant very many of any of them to have very little else a few years down the line if you don’t really keep on top of them and make a concerted effort to keep space for other things. I don’t enjoy being ruthless but am prepared to be, plus I’ve had some help from disease and storms along the way. There seemed to be a lot happening so I took a few pictures to help contemplation of what I liked and disliked. I need something to block the view of my tunnel, pretty it ain’t. The view back down the way makes shows a space I may be able to use.

Loads more sixes will as ever be linked to The Propagator’s masterly posting; be sure to check them out over the next day or two.