Helen's Garden Renovation Project

Wednesday 28 February 2007

Oh no it’s raining again

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 8:47 pm

Today it rained. Again. I have heard we have had a wetter than average winter, which is good news really if we don’t want a hosepipe ban, but is not good news for garden renovation projects.

I know I said I wasn’t going to buy any more pots, but I have decided I need to dig up the winter flowering jasmine in the side passage because for some reason I didn’t plant it right in the middle of the fence panel with the trellis on it. When I get the passage paved over, I want the gap for the jasmine to be in the centre of the fence panel so it looks smart and symmetrical. So I will dig up the jasmine and plant it when they have finished. This will also prevent the paving men from treading on it. (They didn’t tread on anything that didn’t want treading on when they laid the last lot of paving, but it is quite a cramped space and I see no harm in removing anything delicate out of their way).

So I went to Wilkinson’s and bought four 18cm (7 inch) pots for 69p. I managed to stop myself from buying five convallaria (lily of the valley) for £1. I will not buy any plants that aren’t on my garden design list. Not unless I absolutely, truly have to.


Monday 26 February 2007

Levelling the seed bed

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 2:23 pm

I have now finished clearing the annual seed bed. I have dug up as much kerria as I could. My plan is to squirt glyphosate on any kerria shoots that start growing again, since by then they will be properly in leaf and will therefore be able to absorb it. I have rescued two clumps which I have put in big pots. Later on, perhaps, I may get a big square pot and put the kerria in that, because I like its cheerful yellow flowers, and also its stems make very good pea sticks. But any kerria that sticks its head out of that border is getting poisoned.

I am not going to sow the annuals yet. I shall wait until March. A good indication of the right time to sow is when weeds start appearing. Lesser celandine doesn’t count as a weed for the purpose of this indicator, or else I would be sowing the seeds in January.

My final job is to level the plot. Minor differences in level will be concealed when the flowers get going, but I still want to get the plot level because it will make it easier to water when we have our hot dry summer. In fact, I want to try and make a slight dip in the middle of the plot so that excess water will drain into there rather than off the path or into next door’s garden. Levelling ground is not easy, even for small areas. I think you are supposed to drive pegs into it and use spirit levels and drag planks across it. I will have to do that when I make my new lawn. Fortunately I already have a spirit level (21st birthday present) and two planks that I sawed off my blackberry frame.


Wednesday 21 February 2007

The side passage is finally cleared

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 9:30 pm

Today I put in a good two hours’ work. I cleared the last compost bin out of the side passage. The way is now clear to getting the air conditioning unit moved (you can see the pipes on the left hand side) and getting the area paved over apart from a little space for the winter flowering jasmine to continue to attempt to grow. You can just about see the winter flowering jasmine against the fence on the right. It is practically in the dark, so it has done very well to flower at all.


I dug up some of the marjoram at the entrance to the side passage, just behind where I stood to take the photograph, so that I could put a compost bin on that patch of ground. I want to use it to store some of the topsoil that will be dug up when the path is laid. I will almost certainly be short of topsoil when the plan is finished, because I am replacing a sunken pond with a raised one, so I want to keep as much as I can store.

I have also cleared over a third of the annual planting area. I dug up the escallonia. This was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. If you want a sturdy shrub that grows vigorously and doesn’t budge in a strong wind, escallonia has to be a good bet. But it needs too much pruning to keep it looking nice, and it doesn’t get enough sun in the position I planted it to produce many flowers. It layers itself readily, so I have some of its children in pots in case I change my mind and want to have escallonia ‘Crimson Spire’ again.

I also finally exhausted my collection of plant pots, apart from the smallest ones. I could buy some more (I am sure Wilkinson’s would do me a good deal) but I think I have a ridiculous number of pots as it is, and it will take all day to keep them watered in summer. So when I dug up the hellebore – beautiful deep purple orientalis job – I just moved it to the other side of the garden instead of putting it in a pot.

Oh, and I went to the garden centre on Saturday (Redfields, in Fleet) and bought some reduced-price snowdrops in pots, so when I am ready, I can plant them, and unlike the 50 dry bulbs I bought from B&Q in 1996, they might actually get established!


Monday 19 February 2007

How to sow an annual bed

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 9:25 pm

So I have decided to plant a load of annuals in the right hand border. The area, shown in the picture below, is the strip between the bay tree and the camellia, and it is about 4.4m by 1.8m (about 14.5 feet by 6 feet).

Left hand border before seeding

In the picture you can see just the left hand edge of the camellia. What’s that pink blob? I think it’s done a flower. I shall have to go out and check tomorrow. The messy shrub to the right of centre is an escallonia, and the stalks at the left hand side are the kerria. The kerria is just beginning to come into leaf. I am going to dig both the escallonia and the kerria up. The annuals will all have finished their business by November, and therefore I can scoop them all up and put them in the compost, and leave the ground clear for the trench for the electric cable to the greenhouse to be dug. Although I have sown a few annuals from time to time, I have never planted up such a large area with annuals, and probably never will again unless I move to a house with a bigger garden. So this is an interesting experiment for me.

I thought about planting half hardy annuals, but then I would have to germinate them indoors and I haven’t got my greenhouse yet, and there wouldn’t be enough windowsill space in the house. Also it would be a lot more work because I would have to transplant them to their positions outside, and I don’t want this mini-project to distract me from the main project. If I plant hardy annuals, I can sow them in March and then I just have to weed them, water them and thin them out. The disadvantage is that if they decide they like the accommodation, they may leave their children behind for next year. I don’t think that would happen so much with the half hardy annuals because most of their children would germinate too early and get killed in the April frosts. On the other hand, I could do with some more interesting weeds. I am bored with bittercress and willowherb. So I have decided to sow some hardy annuals.

According to the gardening books, it is quite straightforward to make a display of annuals:

(1) Weed the area, then rake it until it looks like dark brown breadcrumbs.

(2) Use some sand to divide the area into smaller areas. Use curved lines to make it look informal.

(3) Rake out several parallel shallow straight line trenches across each area.

(4) Sow seeds thinly in the trenches, using a different packet of seeds for each area. Put tall plants at the back and short ones at the front.

(5) Rake at right angles to the trenches to fill them in.

(6) Water.

(7) When the seeds and the weeds germinate, you will be able to tell which ones are weeds because the annuals are growing in a straight line, so you can pull the weeds up early before they really get going.

(8) Thin out the seedlings if they are growing on top of each other. If you like, transplant some of the thinnings into the gaps between rows so that they don’t look like you sowed them in a straight line any more.

What they don’t tell you, though, is how many packets of seeds you need to buy. You can find out how many seeds there are in a packet; for example, there are 150 seeds in my packet of lavatera, but a massive 2000 in the night scented stocks packet. However, they don’t tell you what area these seeds should cover. They just tell you to sow them thinly. I think the seed suppliers should take a tip from the paint manufacturers and say what the coverage should be, assuming that you only sow one coat of seeds.

Anyway, I went to Wilkinson’s in Aldershot this lunchtime, and bought the following:

Alyssum, carpet of snow, 900 seeds, 49p
Cornflower, double black, 250 seeds, £1.59
Cornflower, double blue, 250×2 seeds (2 packets @ 59p), £1.18
Larkspur, giant imperial mixed, 600 seeds, 39p
Lavatera, Pastel mixed, 150 seeds, 39p
Poppy, Peony black, 750 seeds, £1.79
Stock, night scented, 2000 seeds, 49p.

I didn’t mean to buy two packets of the blue cornflowers; it just happened. I was obviously very attracted to them.

Total price £3.26 because they were all “buy one get one free”. The more expensive packets are Johnsons, while the cheaper ones are Wilkinson’s own brand. I remember BBC Gardeners’ World sowing an annual bed for £20 a few years ago. Theirs was probably bigger than mine. All the same, I bet they didn’t get their seeds from Wilkinson’s.


Saturday 17 February 2007

An interim plan for the right hand border

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 9:10 pm

According to my original project plan, I was going to get the greenhouse installed first, in late winter or early spring. However, I realised that when the greenhouse was delivered, I would have to store it somewhere until it was installed, and the garage is a bit full. It would help if I could get the tool store in place first, because then I could move the tools out of the garage, freeing up space for the greenhouse. Also, getting the water butts installed is a big priority, because I think it is going to be a hot summer again. Now that I am no longer using the side passage for compost storage, it makes sense to have the air conditioning unit in the side passage rather than against the back wall, so that needs moving. And if I got the side passage paved over, it would make it much easier to install the tool store, since I would have a level base to put it on, and the same thing applies to the water butts. So this is the plan now:

(1) Get the air conditioning unit moved. This, apparently, is not as easy as it sounds, because the refrigerant inside it has to be taken out and put back in.

(2) Get the side passage paved over, and patch over the bit of paving where the air conditioning unit used to be. Also get the contractors to remove the three posts that are set in concrete – or wait until the time of the greenhouse installation if it would be cheaper to do that all at once.

(3) Install water butts. I may get the man who cleans and repairs my gutters to do this, because it sounds as if it is easy, but I know it can be tricky, and I might need to buy a new downpipe if I do it wrong. And I need one of the joints in the gutter at the front of the house repairing so he might as well do the water butts while he is here.

(4) Buy and assemble tool store. This I am sure I can manage myself.

(5) Put tools in tool store and tidy up garage.

(6) Order greenhouse and get it installed.

I want to get the bits of gardening work that I can’t do myself done off season because it is usually cheaper, and also because October and November tend to be fairly quiet times for my maths tuition business, compared with April to June, which are frantic. So I will be aiming to get the greenhouse installed in November. Until then I can’t plant anything permanent in the right hand border, because that is going to get dug up to lay an electric cable for the greenhouse. However, I don’t want to have a stretch of bare ground all summer because it will be overrun with weeds and I will have a job trying to keep them under control.


Monday 12 February 2007

A rainy day – perfect for blogging rather than gardening

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 1:25 pm

After promising my friends and family for several weeks that I was going to start a blog to keep them updated on my garden renovation progress, I’ve finally done it! I have just been out to move some more compost and dig up a few plants, but it is now raining too much, so I thought I would get the blog started.

I have never written a blog before. For those of you who have never written a blog either, the screen that I am typing into looks different from the screen you are looking at. There are seven buttons at the right hand side of the screen, and I am a bit worried to see that one of them says “Post slug”. I am having enough trouble keeping them off my primulas without adding them to my blog. No doubt it will all become clear as I get more experienced.


Thursday 8 February 2007

Winter is attempted

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 9:01 pm

This morning, as the weather forecasters had promised, we had a couple of inches of snow. So, a good day for taking photographs, not going to work, and not gardening.

Left hand side of garden with snow

Right hand side of garden with snow

I called this post “Winter is attempted” because by noon most of the snow had melted, and then it started raining. We may get some further snowfalls in February, but no one is promising anything.