Alex’s Ramblings Aug 2019

August ramblings

As I sit here, looking out of the window we are experiencing a sharp and heavy shower. Given the amount of rainfall we have had this year, any is welcome. We have had to endure some very high temperatures which has meant watering the greenhouse twice per day and vegetables weekly.

One effect of the hot weather has meant that the ornamental garden is a little advanced from where it should be at this time of year and pollinators are taking full advantage. Bees of several varieties are enjoying particularly Echinacea and they spend hours on the cardoons. We have counted nine varieties of butterflies in the garden this year, most of which we have identified failing with a couple. We have identified: cabbage white, red admiral, peacock, gatekeeper, comma, painted lady and small pearl bordered fritillary with one blue and one orange that we are unable to identify. This is the first year we have noticed so many different varieties and I like to think that my choice of planting scheme has much to do with this. I shall be consulting the appropriate information sources to identify which addition pollinator friendly varieties I can plant in my garden in the future.

The greenhouse is in full production and we are harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers (six today). Chillies and sweet peppers are coming on at a pace and it will not be long before we are sampling those. As mentioned above, I am having to water the greenhouse twice per day. It also helps to splash the central path to keep humidity levels up. You should have pinched out the growing tips of your tomatoes by now. It is usually recommended that you do this after the fifth truss but I am a little greedy and do it after the sixth truss. You should also continue to pinch out any side shoots forming in the leaf axils of your tomatoes and feed regularly. One thing I have noticed this year is that my main tomato crop of Sungold appears to be producing much larger trusses of fruit and those toward the end of the truss are the size of peas when ripe. All that I have done differently this year is use different compost but I know from talking another gardener in the village, he is experiencing the same phenomenon.

In the vegetable garden I have bent over the top growth of my onions and will be lifting them out of the ground to dry and ripen in about another ten days. Contrary to last year, I’m expecting a fine crop. Shallots have already been lifted and are drying prior to storing.

In the rest of the vegetable plot, we have had visits from a badger. He has destroyed the broad bean crop and then turned his attention to the sweet corn. I have erected a barrier around them but knowing how tenacious badgers can be I’m not entirely confident that this will deter him. Runner and French Beans and carrots are now in full production and having made successional sowings, we expect to enjoy these for many weeks. The second sowing of mange tout is now producing while the first sowing has now been dug up releasing the ground for me to sow swede. We are picking courgettes on a daily basis and salad crops continue in a most productive manner which we are enjoying immensely. After a sluggish start, the squash plants have put on a growth spurt but signs of fruiting are slow to show. Let’s hope we don’t get any early frosts!

Work in the ornamental garden is confined mainly to dead heading and weed control. Roses have had their second feed of the year and we are hoping for many more blooms. We continue to feed sweet peas but for some reason, this year stems appear to be unusually short.

Summer pruning and fruit thinning of my cordon fruit trees is complete and I’m looking forward to a reasonable but not as good a crop as last year.

Finally, the Society’s highlight of the year, the annual flower show and country fair takes place later this month on the 31st. Armed with a schedule which you should have by now received you can start planning your selections for entering. The principal aim of The Society is to promote gardening and a large entry from as many gardeners as possible will let us know we are being successful in that aim and encourage us to stage future shows.

As usual I list a few pointers for entering:

  • Complete the entry form included with the schedule and ensure you submit this before the cut off time as shown in the schedule. You will be issued with an entry ticket for each exhibit.
  • On the morning of the show you will need to start early with the aim of getting your exhibits tabled in the marquee before the cut off time of 10am when judging will commence.
  • Dig and collect your exhibits. Ensure they are clean with no trace of soil. Use some damp cotton wool or a very soft toothbrush to clean them, being careful not to damage any specimens. Onions and shallots should have their foliage removed prior to exhibition to about two or three inches (5 to 8 cms) for onions and one inch (3 cms) for shallots, bent over and tied neatly with a piece of raffia. To save time on the day, it is best to do this a few days beforehand.

A few tips on exhibiting:

Generally, it’s all about catching the judge’s eye:

  • Exhibits should be as uniform as possible.
  • Try to ensure they are undamaged.
  • The number of examples should be as per the schedule. If three carrots are asked for, three are required. Don’t try to pull the wool over the judge’s eyes. It will not work.
  • If the schedule asks for exhibits on a plate or in a vase, do as asked. It will make a difference.
  • Table your exhibits in the allocated space so that it is prominently displayed.

Specifically

  • Best collection of five varieties of vegetables. Exhibit in a pleasing container in accordance with the dimensions asked for.
  • Best collection of herbs, will probably best exhibited in a container capable of holding water, vase, glass etc.
  • For carrots and beetroot, leave about two inches (5cms) of foliage.
  • Onions are best shown standing vertically, To do this, cut some half inch (1 cm) deep, rings from a cardboard kitchen roll or similar, and use these to stand the onions on.
  • Shallots are traditionally shown on a plate of fine sand which will hold them in place as arranged and make them attractive to the eye. Pickling shallots should be able to pass through a one inch (2.54cm) ring
  • Runner and French beans are traditionally shown on a piece of card covered in black cloth.
  • Sweet corn should have the foliage peeled back to display the cobs.
  • Tomatoes must have the calyx attached to each fruit.
  • Cucumbers should be of as equal size as possible
  • Leeks should have their flags (greenery) gathered together and held with an elastic band or similar.
  • Marrows, courgettes and chillies should have a quantity of stalk intact.
  • Garlic should be trimmed

As for fruit:

  • Do not polish your fruit, particularly plums which must be shown with their “bloom.”
  • Exhibit them with stalks.

I think that’s enough to be going on with. Don’t forget, it’s a local show designed primarily for members and non members from the vicinity of Wellow. Above all, it is meant to be enjoyed by all who take part. Don’t feel that your produce is not up to standard. You may well be surprised by what wins an award. It’s about participating and maintaining a tradition that is now 70 years old. Please enter as much as you can and help us all to have a terrific and enjoyable show.

Good gardening,

Alex

Alex’s Ramblings July 2019

July ramblings,

 

As I write these ramblings for July, the Society has just staged its annual garden party at the home of David and Annie Scotland. Keenly anticipated, it lived up to expectation.  It was a grand occasion attended many members, held in a magnificent garden which was brimming full of inspiration for the many members attending.

 

At the same time, awards were presented for the “Best Garden in Wellow” competition. Contrary to my expectation that there would be few, there were 13 entries from owners of gardens large and small and great diversity. It would not have been easy to judge them and we were very fortunate to have as judge, the winner of the BBC’s Gardeners World gardening magazine “ Garden of the Year,” Wayne Amiel.

 

Each garden was visited and judged against criteria laid down by Wayne and awards were made as per the Royal Horticultural Society’s system i.e. bronze, silver, silver gilt and gold. Each garden was in receipt of an award and the overall winner was that of Di Dalgleish and Johnathon Knights on which Wayne commented he was “blown away” by. Receiving their award, Di and Johnathon invited anyone present to visit their garden the following day.I have just returned from such a visit and have to say that I was equally blown away by the garden that was truly visionary.

 

Back to more mundane matters: June served up a disappointment in terms of weather with below average temperatures and rainfall but things have improved of late but we could still do with a significant amount of rainfall. Today my water butts delivered their last drop of rainwater.

 

Most things in the vegetable garden are growing nicely particularly onions which were a disappointment last year.  The plot is bursting with vegetables of all varieties and we are currently eating, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, broad beans, carrots, mange tout, courgettes and so many strawberries we have been making jam with them. For those of you wondering why potatoes don’t get a mention in this list, it is because, like a lot  but not all gardens in the village I have soil bordering on the quite alkaline which results in potatoes suffering from blight which, although edible, would certainly not win any prizes on the show bench hence, I do not grow them.

 

In the ornamental garden, activity features mainly dead heading and feeding paying particular attention to sweet peas, roses and dahlias.

 

I pride myself on gardening organically and was interested the other day, to receive an email from a well known company offering a complete range of organic pest controls including, would you believe, ladybirds. Whatever next!

 

At this time of year, the tool that gets most use is the hoe, ensuring that plants get an unrestricted access to the best that the soil provides. I find it a most therapeutic activity. Most by now will have a good idea of what they want to enter in the show and schedules are now available. Don’t forget, even if you are not entirely happy with your produce it could well be that other gardeners are also suffering from less than perfect specimens. Let the judges decide. Don’t forget, the flower show is a week earlier than normal this year on Saturday 31 August.

 

Happy gardening,

 

Alex

Alex’s Ramblings June 2019

Apologies for my absence last month: as for an excuse, I’ll quote former Prime Minister Harold MacMillan ”events dear boy, events.” One of those events involved spending time on The Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides where it was so cold and bleak, I wondered how anything could possibly grow there. It makes one realise how fortunate we are to live where we enjoy a much more benign climate.

On the subject of weather, it is noticeable how much warmer it has become, although as I write this, we are subject to a reduction in temperatures due to the Jet Stream being in an unfavourable position. Rainfall has been below average but we are promised a significant downpour tomorrow which should give the garden a good soak and top up my water butts, not to mention my fish pond.

Progress in the vegetable garden has been good. In the greenhouse I have twenty nine tomato plants of three varieties: Sungold, Sweet Million and Golden Sunrise. We should be eating tomatoes in around ten days time. These will go nicely with my cucumbers which have already started producing. The remainder of the space is taken up with peppers and chillies.

Last year, I told you of how I was trialling potting up side shoots removed from leaf axils of tomatoes which would enable a longer growing season and also save on the cost of seed which for F1 varieties, can be quite expensive. Results achieved were just as good as plants sown from seed hence, I’m repeating the exercise this year. As for the outdoor crops everything seems to be doing quite nicely. Successional sowings have been made of beetroot, cabbage, sweet corn, mange tout, lettuce and French and runner beans to ensure as long a productive season as possible. Kale, cabbage and Brussels are all under protective netting and I have just noticed that my broad beans have an infestation of black fly which I shall remove by blasting them off with the hose pipe. From now on in the vegetable garden, it will be case of using the hoe to keep weed infestations down and ensuring adequate watering.

In the ornamental garden, everything seems to be moving on nicely. Roses are in their first flush of blooming and have benefited from their second administration of feed. From now on, it will be a case of dead heading to ensure a continuous production of flowers which will hopefully produce nice specimens for the Flower Show. Sweet peas have been attached to canes and will be regularly fed at intervals of ten days with the same aim in mind. Gaos have been filled with annuals.

The lawns have still not recovered from last year’s drought and I have used a weed and feed mixture on them, just having completed the second application and they are showing signs of improvement. It’s going to be a long job and no doubt, due to climate change, it looks as though it will be a continuous struggle to keep all lawns in the same condition as we have previously enjoyed. As you may have surmised, I’m not a fan of watering lawns.

Although not here for the plant sale, I’m told it was quite successful and trust that you may have acquired something to fill in gaps in your garden or even to grow on to enter into the Flower Show which this year, is to be held a week earlier than normal, on August 3!st. The show is a great day out for all the family with classes for all ages. As a Society, we try to encourage entries from the school and we ask you attempt to get all of your children and grandchildren interested in growing plants of all sorts. The younger they start the more likely they are to develop a lifelong interest.  This year, our grandchildren have been actively engaged in sowing vegetables at home and here in our garden, have planted sweet peas and as a bit of fun, a giant pumpkin. Look out for a large entry in the show!

 

Good gardening!

 

Alex

 

 


Alex’s Ramblings April 2019

April’s ramblings

 

Well, it’s nice that the clocks have sprung forward giving us extra hours of daylight and who knows, extra motivation to get out there into the garden and catch up on all those jobs we promised to do but never quite got round to. We had some lovely weather toward the end of March but as April starts, it’s almost back to winter with a very cold spell. Some parts of the country have even had snow! As I write this, it is raining heavily and vertically. Looking on the bright side, it will ensure the general purpose weed and feed I put on my lawns is taken up quickly, I can already see the patches of moss turning black so I know it’s working.  Looking at my last year’s records, we appear to be about a month further on than last. Daffodils were just emerging and we were looking forward to the tulips blooming. This year, my daffodils are finished and have been replaced by some fine tulip specimens although they did get damaged slightly by frost earlier this week

Temperatures are forecast to recover this weekend and a spell of more settled weather is expected. I have managed to get my tomatoes and cucumbers potted up and shall have plenty available for the plant sale on May 4th. I have also sown lettuce, leeks, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and planted onions, shallots and broad beans. I had hoped to get an early sowing of sweet corn by now but it was not to be. I shall be making multiple sowings of these and many other of my vegetable selections in order to ensure as long a harvesting period as possible. April sees a marked increase in sowing and by the end of the month I shall have beetroot, carrot, runner and French beans, mange tout, courgette and squash all sown. Those of you who grow potatoes will no doubt be getting them in the ground this month too.

In addition to my usual variety of French bean, I’m trying a variety new to me called Hunter. They look quite attractive and I’m hoping they may catch the judge’s eye at the show. After trying a dwarf variety of Brussels sprouts last year which turned out to be an absolute disaster I’m reverting to my traditional variety of Brendan.

In the decorative garden, tidying continues at apace, readying the borders for annual planting. Rose pruning is complete and an early feed applied. The dahlias I started into growth last month are shooting well and I shall be able to take cuttings from them in the next week or so thus increasing my stock. In the greenhouse, I will be sowing annuals for filling in those gaps in the borders.  If, like me, you have a glut of snowdrops, now is the best time to split them while they still have their foliage. Just dig them up and divide the clumps as you wish. Put the remainder back into the hole you made when digging them up and in a couple of years you’ll be looking to divide them again.

A week or so ago, I listened to an item on the radio regarding water or the lack of it. In essence, it was forecasting that there will be insufficient water to support the population within 25 years. As responsible gardeners, it behoves us all to use water judiciously and we can all play a part by storing and using the water that falls on our own properties. If you don’t have a water butt, they are an excellent investment.

Good gardening,

Alex

 

Alex’s Ramblings March 2019 (First of the Year!!)

Well, here I am back again after the winter break sharing thoughts and experiences for the upcoming gardening year! Let’s hope it is going to be a more moderate one than last year’s.

The weather this past winter has not been as bad as last year. Who can forget “The Beast from the East?” February has seen record temperatures which prompted the sound of many lawn mowers in the vicinity. Snowdrops and crocus are all finished. Daffodils are bursting out. You could be forgiven for thinking Spring has arrived but as my mother would have said “we will probably pay for it later.” Temperatures have returned to a lower level but are still above the seasonal average and it is heartening to see more of the sun and experience the lengthening days. As I sit here writing this, we are experiencing some short, sharp showers which, pardon the pun, puts a dampener on things for a while.

No doubt all of you will by now be thinking of sowing seeds to get things off to a good start and I’m no different. If you haven’t completed your seed order, it’s not too late or you can pop into one of the local garden centres. All have clearance sales on and bargains are there to be had. A tip for your next seed order:  I managed great savings by purchasing on Black Friday. Don’t forget to bear in mind what you would like to enter into the flower show which is a week earlier than usual this year. I have already made sowings of onion in February and this month, three varieties of tomato, Sungold, surely the sweetest variety of all, Golden Sunrise, a yellow variety great for salads and grilling and San Marzano, great for cooking. Together with the tomatoes, I have also made sowings of peppers and cucumbers. With the plant sale scheduled for May 4th this year, I have sown extra of all of these. It would be great if you could do likewise. Last year’s sale was a great success and we are hoping this year’s will be even more successful.

As the month progresses I shall be making sowings of sweet corn, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, leeks and lettuce in the sparkling clean greenhouse which was one of those winter jobs I did manage to get round to!  Speaking of winter preparation, all of my vegetable beds are available for planting and those on my allotment have been covered since the autumn so I am hoping to get early plantings of onions and sowings of carrots, beetroot and parsnip later this month.

As far as the formal garden is concerned, my attempts to repair the ravages of last year’s drought have been pretty unsuccessful. I am undecided whether to redo each of them or purchase new turf with which I can patch the affected areas. My borders have been afflicted for some time with an inundation of wild strawberry which manages to root itself very cleverly in the very centres of my bedding. The grandchildren do enjoy picking and eating the tiny fruits but they have to go and to that end, I have completely dug out my largest bed and am in the process of replanting with some existing plants from that bed but also with stock raised by myself in the summer/autumn of last year together with some bought in examples such as alliums, lilies and agapanthus. With an eye on the flower show, I am about to start off dahlias in pots from which I can take cuttings and hence increase my stock.

No doubt you will remember last year, the Hort Soc had pollinators as its theme for the year supported by talks, films and a bee walk  on the subject and I hope many of you will have or be about to include something in your garden to make life easier and increase the level of these creatures. This year the chosen theme is Climate Change. Most people I know think it irrefutable that the climate is changing. I remember my mother in the sixties moaning about climate changes although she did not call it that and blaming the atom bomb! I, as a know-it-all teenager at the time, dismissed such observations out of hand but now realise that although she may have attributed it to the wrong cause, she had witnessed in her lifetime perceptible changes to the climate. One leading organisation in the field has proclaimed “we are the first generation to realise what we are doing to the planet and we are the last generation able to do something about it.” A sobering thought indeed.

As gardeners one might ask: what can we do about it, it’s a global problem that will require global action and anything gardeners achieve will have little impact. Well, anything we can do will help and who knows where it might lead? A few suggestions for you to consider:

  • Garden as organically as possible with the aim of eradicating chemical use.
  • Encourage pollinators into your garden. Install rainwater collection devices.
  • Compost as much of your own material as possible: your compost will keep your soil in good heart which, in turn, will produce healthier and better crops.
  • Avoid peat based composts.
  • Recycle all that garden plastic material so that it does not end up in land fill.

 

If you have any further suggestions, drop me a line and I’ll share them with everyone.

In the meantime, I wish you

Good gardening,

 

Alex

What’s on 2019

EVENTS FOR 2019

THEME OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Wednesday 13th March 7.30pm, Wellow Village Hall: a talk by Tony Davies entitled “Space and Climate Change”. There will also be “climate-change-friendly” plants for sale.
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Wednesday 3rd April, a visit to Downside Nurseries at Westwood. 
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Saturday 4th May 2-4pm, Wellow Village Hall: the annual Plant Sale. Tea, coffee and cakes available.
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Saturday 6th July during the day and NEW to Wellow, “Best Gardens in Wellow Competition” (this is not an open gardens event – only the judges will be going around).  Followed by the Annual Garden Party to be held at Cranborne, Wellow at 6.30 -9pm. The results of the earlier competition will be announced at the party.
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Saturday 31st August, at Wellow Playing Fields, 1-5pm, Flower Show and Country Fair
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October – details to follow on Apple Day
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Thursday 21st November 7.30pm in Wellow Village Hall, AGM
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December – details to follow on Wreath-Making Workshop
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Alex’ September Ramblings – last for the year!

The annual flower show for is over for another year and although I was elsewhere on the day, all the reports I am receiving, tell me that it was another excellent one, both in terms of quantity and quality. Hearty congratulations to all that entered. It is pleasing to see that we had a new winner of the Banksian Medal by a member showing only for the second time. The winner claims that until two years ago they were not a gardener! It just goes to show what can be achieved by determination and a little skill. I hope this will encourage more to participate. Continue reading Alex’ September Ramblings – last for the year!