All gardeners like to chat, whether it is over the fence, across the driveway or between allotment patches. This is the virtual version of that sort of chat and will talk about what has struck us recently, including the weather (we are English after all), what seems to be growing well (or badly) good (and bad) ideas that we have come across and anything else in the fruit and vegetable world that we think might interest other gardeners.
On the whole, our approach to developing gardens is one of evolution, rather than revolution. Most gardens have enough in the way of quality plants and features that we prefer to build around what already exists rather than clear everything out and start again.
However, there are times when a garden gets tired and, more importantly, times when the gardener gets tired of it. This summer we were asked to look at a small front garden dominated by a beautiful blue cedar. Unfortunately despite much care and attention the surrounding lawn had always struggled and the borders were becoming overgrown.
This autumn we started by clearing out the driveway borders and getting the turf lifted and the ground levelled slightly.
Our brief was to create a low maintenance gravel garden, so after improving the soil, we used a heavy duty weed suppressant membrane to provide a base for the new gravel.
Despite the added soil improver, the basic soil was pretty thin with a lot of gravel, so we dug out planting holes with a mattock before putting down the membrane. This made planting through the membrane quite easy (we’d used canes poked through the membrane to mark the holes as the membrane went down).
The planting scheme used repeating grasses of different colours to contrast with the gravel colours, with dwarfing Dianthus and Irises providing splashes of seasonal colour. Low growing Junipers and dwarf Fuchsias repeated along the driveway border and the large concrete pots allow seasonal bedding to add highlights.
Once all the membrane was down and the plants were in, it was simply a question of barrowing in the gravel. As well as two-tone mix in the centre, we re-used existing slate chippings to delineate a driveway border and some green stones to create a “dried river bed”. The latter complete with some slate “bridges”.
Our monthly tips are extended versions of the articles we write for the Cookham Parish Magazine. In September we devoted the piece to promoting the village flower and produce show held in the middle of the month. With almost 60 classes of vegetables, fruit, flowers and crafts and cooking, there is something for everyone, and with helpful organisers eager to assist new entrants, we wanted to encourage lots of entries.
The baking classes were, as usual, heavily subscribed and there seemed to be more entries in the vegetable classes than last year, but there were fewer flowers than last year. One of the exhibitors said that the heavy rains in August and early September had meant that he had fewer blooms available than usual. Nevertheless there were some lovely flower exhibits.
Amongst the vegetables, the chilli pepper class was popular, with a number of different cultivars entered. On the fruit side, there were lots of lovely looking apples .
the heaviest pumpkin class attracted four entries with a winning weight of 37.2kg (or a whisper under 6 stone for those who prefer imperial measures). this leads us to the second show of the month that we visited, the Malvern Autumn Show at the end of the month, which featured a giant vegetable show as well as more normal fruit and vegetable classes.
The Cookham pumpkins were just a little bit smaller than those in Malvern. The winner at Malvern was over 400kg!
Aside from the giant vegetables, there were lots of beautiful entries in the more standard classes.
The sheer number of entries shows the popularity of show growing, maybe next year’s Cookham show will fill the village hall even more fully.
Yesterday was the Cookham Village Show and for the first timer we entered some of the fruit and vegetable classes. We grow for fun (and mostly to eat) but wanted to support the local show. We found that the difficulty of getting the matching specimens needed for showing confirmed our view that we won’t be entering any of the bigger shows around. We don’t really want to be digging up/harvesting more than we can eat or use at any one time simply to have the requisite number of matching carrots (or whatever).
We did have some successes, winning prizes for carrots, sweet peppers and a collection of three types of vegetable (in our case carrots again – albeit a different variety, parsnips and onions), but probably our best entry was the chilli peppers. These were Joe’s Long, which are not only appropriately named but very prolific, so that we were able to get the required six matching peppers.
Chilli plants are one of the great givers. A single plant can provide enough peppers for a year (unless you’re a real chilli head). As well as being productive they can be very attractive and although they are often grown as tender annuals in the UK they are in fact perennials and can be over-wintered in frost free conditions.
This one is now just over 2 years old and has been brought indoors for the winter and looks sufficiently splendid that it will be incorporated into this year’s Christmas decorations.
Generally seed packets suggest that germination of chilli seeds requires extra heat (we generally use a small propagator), but this year we also noticed that quite a few plants had emerged from fallen fruit in one of the raised beds in the allotment. We’ve potted up half a dozen of these and they are now being looked after on a windowsill to give us some specimen plants for next year.
One of the great things about gardening is that it is by nature optimistic and forward looking. Almost every job that we do is an investment in the future. In a country like Britain where there is a distinct rhythm to the seasons, this optimism is especially rewarding in spring. Spring bulbs are the confirmation that earlier work is bearing fruit and that longer, warmer days are on their way.
The “galanthophiles” will claim that snowdrops are the harbingers of the new year, but for Mark the sheer joyous colours of crocuses is the thing that shows that spring is really on the way.
A little later there is nothing like a classic daffodil to confirm that the worst of the winter is behind us.