The Sunday Gardener's Blog

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    Ness Botanical vegetable garden Pea 'Blauwschokker' broad bean with Crimson flowers

     Great Veg to Grow in 2017

    This time of year is great for planning, looking forward to spring. The lull between Christmas and New Year gives time to look at the seed catalogues, check web sites and think about the veg plot. Often there are some great offers as the various companies scramble to attract our money.

    When thinking about what to plant where it is worth remembering the need to rotate crops. To keep pests and diseases away it is best not to plant the same type of veg in the same part of the plot or garden each year; a detailed explanation of crop rotation.

    I have also been inspired by some of the beautiful vegetable gardens I have seen in recent years. So much so that growing vegetables has become an art form incorporating mixed planting of different coloured vegetables interspersed with flowers. Adding flowers to the vegetable garden such as Calendula, the Pot Marigold has the added benefit of attracting pollinators,  but happily not attractive to slugs, and Limnanthes douglasii, the poached egg plant is often covered in pollinators. Having these flowers within the veg plot adds bright colour and helps pollination which if it is another poor summer, will help to increase yields. The image below left is of part of the vegetable garden at Ness Botanical which is so colourful.

    Thinking about colour I have been drawn to some different variety of veg this year including  'Pea Blauwschokker' a heritage variety from Dobies, part of Rob Smith's heritage vegetable collection and which is described as having purple flowers and dark purple pods which sounds interesting, image below centre. Runner bean 'Sunset' also from Dobies described as having peachy pink flowers instead of the usual red/white. In previous years I have also grown Broad bean 'Crimson' available from Thompson and Morgan and as illustrated below right which has fabulous flowers and really good firm beans.

    Advice on growing vegetables

    Growing tomatoes Red and green lettuces Bean emerging after germination


    Another favourite is the little gem lettuce 'Red Amaze' which is tasty and pretty. It has all the qualities of a little gem but with attractive red edged outer leaves. It looks really good grown with all green lettuces alternating red/green.

    I also liked Thompson and Morgan French Dwarf bean collection  because it was offering three varieties to harvest across the summer, and competitively priced. Last year, especially with not the best of summers, the yield from dwarf beans was better than from the taller varieties which seems to me a reason to grow them again.

    This year I am opting for tomato plants as well as germinating some from seed, mainly to see if buying a ready grafted plant would fruit earlier to give a longer cropping season. I thought the idea on Dobies web site of early delivery from April onwards was a good idea so will see how these plug plants fare. Fortunately I have several varieties of tomato seeds left over from last season to germinate this year.

    I also bought a host of other seeds and veg; salad crops, onions, courgettes, cucumbers, garlic, carrots the list goes on.If you are busy planning your veg plot, its good to check first what's left of from last year's seed selection as many seeds are viable for several years. Given that seed is quite expensive it is worth checking what's in hand already. I have a lot of herbs seeds, Pea, tomato and lettuce seeds left over from last year. Seed keeps well in a sealed metal tin, better than in plastic as drier and I keep it in the fridge where it is cool and dark. The most important thing is to keep seeds dry, if they get damp there is a real risk they will rot.  Many seeds will keep for years. I always try old seed first and it is generally successful, although for carrot and parsley it is best to buy fresh.  

    Just a few weeks and it will be time to think about germinating the early seeds under cover. One of the best things about gardening is always looking forward.

    Tips on seeding vegetables  and video advice on how to sow and germinate from seed.



  2. I confess, I am not much of a winter gardener. I try, but when it is so cold, damp and uninviting I find plenty of reasons to think about gardening rather than any actual doing.

    For this reason I prefer Winter colour in my garden to be maintenance free, so I can look at it from the warmth inside.

    Two firm favourites for this time of year are the Mahonia top image and Hamamelis lower image.

    Mahonia is the easiest to grow and this variety flowers bright yellow in December & January, some such as 'Charity' are scented.  If you want to have a shrub border with all round interest and very little maintenance, Mahonia is worth checking out.

    Whilst Mahonia is happy growing just about anywhere, (hence it is a landscaping favourite) Hamamelis the Witch Hazel is more temperamental. I have seen it looking  lovly in other people's gardens; it seems to shimmer in the gloom but no hope of growing it myself.

    Hamamelis needs to be planted in a sheltered spot, away from cold winds and not too wet as they dislike waterlogged soils. Hamamelis need sunny to produce good flowers which come ahead of the leaves. An added bonus is that Hamemelis have good autumn colour and if you can grow it in your garden, best plant it where you can see it's flowers from the comfort of your armchair.


    Mahonia blooms in January
    Hamamelis Witch Hazel


  3. Owl-in-winter-310-x-240

    At this time of year the sound of owls calling and hooting in the sharp winter air is magical. I am always amazed and delighted to hear an Owl. I may often hear them but rarely see them. Tawny Owls are amongst the most common and this is shown in the image, very beautiful.

    Tawny Owls tend to live and stay in the same territory which means the pair which live within audio distance to our house can be heard quite regularly. 

    The RSPB advise that the sound of the Tawny Owl, the familiar  to-wit, kewit followed by to-woo, hooo is in fact two Owls the female first followed by the male response.

    This link to You tube is of Owl audio. The reason there is no video footage of Owls is because it was pitch dark and nothing to be seen, just the sound of Owls hooting alongside a stream.


  4. Bamboo weighed down by snow

    I always used to think that bothering to clear snow of shrubs and bushes was for the pedentic gardener. I found out to my cost the amount of damage snow can do.

    Snow is very heavy, it forces the branches down and this can make them snap. When it is very cold, the snow pushes the branches downwards, and then the snow freezes and this holds the branches in place, placing the shrub under tension and strain.

    It seems hard to imagine,  but the sheer weight of snow snapped the branches of an Elaeagnus, some of them were around 8cms/3" wide and it hardly seems credible that snow could damage such strong branches. The snow gets into the centre of the shrub, forces the branches out and they snap under the strain.


    Bamboo free of snow

    The first image is a bamboo which you can see is completely buried under the snow and it's easy to see if it is left like that for several days how the stems will be damaged. The second image shows the bamboo with the snow cleared off and it is standing upright again.

    Evergreen shrubs are most at risk because of their leaf canopy over winter. So it isn't just work for work's sake, if there is a heavy snow fall and no immediate thaw, especially if it freezes, it is best to clear the snow off shrubs to avoid them becoming damaged.

    Video about snow damage

    More winter gardening tips.