Helen's Garden Renovation Project

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Interim results of half hardy seed project

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 3:54 pm

It is now the end of April, and in a month’s time it should be safe to plant my half hardy annuals outside. Avid readers of this blog will recall that last year I sowed some hardy annuals in a patch of ground that I intended to dig up the following autumn. However, slippage on the project meant that the patch of ground did not get dug up after all, and this year I have decided to plant half hardy annuals instead, on the grounds that I can zap the ground with glyphosate to keep the weeds down until the plants are ready to go out, and because they will be quite big when I plant them, they should be able to compete with the new weeds better than the hardy annuals did.

I can now report on the disadvantages of the half hardy annuals strategy. The main one is the difficulty of finding enough places in the house that get enough light to stop the seedlings becoming too spindly. As you can see from the picture, some of mine are a bit straggly. It is possible that they might have grown better if the room had been cooler.

Half hardy seedlings

If I had my greenhouse, I could put the plants in there during the day and take them back into the house at night (to save on heating the greenhouse while the nights are still quite cold) and then there wouldn’t be this problem.

However, apart from the light problem, the half hardy annual strategy is quite a good one. The labour involved in pricking out the seedlings is nothing compared to the amount of weeding I had to do last year, and if I had planted the larger seeds (salvia and dahlia) into separate plugs or pots I wouldn’t have had to prick them out yet. I won’t bother trying to grow petunias from seed again, as they are far too weak and feeble.

There is also the small problem that it keeps raining whenever I have any free time to do things in the garden. This means that I haven’t put any glyphosate on the area where the seedlings will be planted yet. However, there is still time to do this.

The problem with light has made me more determined to do everything I can to get the greenhouse installed this winter. The main thing is to install the shed first, so that I can move tools from the garage to the shed, thus releasing space to store the greenhouse when it arrives until the time when I can have it assembled. Unfortunately, the rain has been something of an obstacle to this task. I also need to start renewing the Leylandii hedge with thuja, and I want to dig up the trees that will be behind the greenhouse before the greenhouse is installed, so they don’t fall on the greenhouse.

Last Saturday I happened to go to the library, and Fleet Market was just outside, and I just happened to see some plants that looked nice, so I impulse-bought a dwarf lilac rhododendron and also a euonymus of a type I don’t remember seeing before. The baby leaves of the euonymus are literally pure white, and then they become green and white variegated. I looked on Google Images, and I think it is euonymus fortunei ‘Harlequin’. I have already planted the rhododendron in the border by the side of the house, along with the red one that I got from B&Q two weeks ago, but no, I do not know where I am going to put the euonymus. The rhododendron was £3 and the euonymus was £2. Excellent value.

White Euonymus

Apologies for the over-exposure, which is caused by me not being a very good photographer.


Monday 14 April 2008

Impulse buying

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 8:36 pm

Last weekend I went to visit my parents. On the way back I called in at Pantiles Nursery. I found out about them through the RHS Plant Finder. My main purpose was to see if they had a Feijoa, but I fancied having a little browse and see what else they had. Unfortunately I was disappointed on two counts. Firstly, although their shrubs claimed to be arranged in A-Z order, I couldn’t work out what their rule was for deciding what went where. I eventually asked for help to find the Feijoa. I can’t fault the quality of the help, especially as the man knew that the plant was also called Acca, which is very helpful for trying to find one in people’s catalogues, but I like to be able to look for things on my own. The second reason for disappointment was that all the plants were very big, with very big price tags to match. This is very good for impatient people who want to build a garden in a weekend, or people who have not much longer to live and who want to spend their last few months looking at huge plants in their garden, but no good for the Garden Renovation Project, which is on a budget and does not spend money when it can get things cheaper by waiting a few years. Anyway, the smallest Feijoa was priced at £46, so I think I will probably be buying one by mail order.

However, the weekend was not a total plant disaster, as Morrison’s were offering a very unusual viola, with purple-edged white flowers, for only 99p. Also, B&Q had a small azalea, helpfully if unimaginatively named “Red”, which will fit very nicely in my shady front-side border.

Purple-edged viola from Morrison’s


Sunday 6 April 2008

The communal landscaping project

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 8:09 pm

This weekend I was dragged away from the Garden Renovation Project to help with planting the new landscaping for the communal area shared by my neighbours and me. When I woke up at half past five, my heart sank because I could hear heavy rain. However, by nine o’clock the rain was over and the sun was out. Susie set out the plants. Here is a picture of one of the three areas that we planted.
Area by pine trees before planting
Since I had saved some time by sorting the plants out yesterday according to where they were going to go, Susie and I planted the smallest area together and Susie took a picture of me looking pleased with myself. Then, as previously agreed, she went home and left us to it.
Small area after planting
At half past ten the enthusiastic members of the working party arrived and we got on with the job. Susie had told me that there were 61 plants, and that at the rate of two minutes per plant, this would take two people just over an hour. Sadly, the assumption of two minutes to plant a plant was wildly optimistic. For one thing, I struck concrete at one point, and ended up levering out a kerbstone with a crowbar. This took a good few minutes. Some of the holes were hard to dig because tree roots were in the way. Some of them were hard to dig because of bricks in the way. Very few of them were easy to dig. There was also the problem of trying to get the levels right. There was a layer of bark on top of the soil and in some places it was three inches thick. It was hard to work out how deep to dig the hole to get the plant at the right level. And of course, it was a messy business scraping aside the bark and then putting it back. One thing which we were unable to work out was how we were supposed to get root-balls whose total volume must have come to some 300 litres, plus 800 litres of compost, into the soil without raising the soil level significantly. Perhaps that can be my next gardening maths problem.

At half past twelve I had to leave the site, but at this stage we still had over twenty plants still to plant. We had planted nearly all the biggest ones, so we were more than two-thirds of the way through, but this was still slippage on a massive scale. Fortunately, my neighbours managed to plant all the rest of the plants during the day, and no one so far has glared at me for disappearing off early.

I have never attempted any planting on this scale before, and I have learned the following lessons from the experience:

(1) If possible, dig out all the rubble from the site yourself. Do not pay anyone else to do it because they probably won’t. If you cannot remove it all yourself and have to pay someone, follow behind their rotavator or mini-digger with a fork and throw all the rubble into the back of their truck.

(2) Do not accept any planting commissions that are near a tree that is over 40 foot high, especially if it has a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on it. If it has not got a TPO on it, you will have a tough time cutting through all the roots. If it has a TPO on it you will not be allowed to cut through any roots that are thicker than your forearm, so you will have to keep digging until you find a large enough gap to put your plant in.

(3) Do not put bark all over the area before planting things. This is just plain silly.

(4) If there is bark all over the area, you can make the job tidier by first removing bark from the place you want to plant, and heaping up the soil from the hole onto an empty bag of compost.

(5) Do not underestimate the physical task of lifting pots, shovelling earth and so on. If you are not used to it, three hours is a long time to spend planting things. Chocolate biscuits are a great help, however.

(6) The easiest way to improve soil quality is to spread a thin layer of compost across the surface of the soil (see comment 3) and let the worms do the digging for you. It is quite hard to use enough compost if you just put some into the bottom of the planting hole, because you still have to get all the soil you dug out back into the hole, as well as the plant, and there just isn’t enough space.

Today (Sunday) began with torrential snow. Our plants were covered.
Area under lime tree with plants covered in snow
However, the snow didn’t last long. And all the plants are very hardy.


Friday 4 April 2008

Spring for a day

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 2:35 pm

Today I had a complete day off work, and the sun was shining, and it was actually warm! So this morning I did some nursery maintenance. I dug up three fritillaria that were flowering around my pond to salvage them from the demolition that will happen one day. I saw that the campanula portenschlangiana was growing very vigorously, so I chopped it into five pieces. I looked at the waldsteinia, which is putting in an application for world domination, and remembered being worried about possibly killing it when I chopped it up. This is definitely a plant to put in the shade and hope that the lack of light calms it down. Goodness knows what it will do if it gets put in the sun. I was slightly tempted to dig up at least one of my hellebores and make it into about five, but it was flowering so beautifully and peacefully that I couldn’t bear to.

Two days ago I pricked out my dahlia seedlings. I have put most of them into a 24-compartment plug tray and the rest into small pots. Given the very high germination rate, if I ever grow dahlias again, I will sow the seeds in individual plug compartments or pots. Most of my seedlings have survived being pricked out, but there is always a risk of damage when the plants are very small. I think I would do the same with salvia, which also has a very high germination rate. I am quite confident about the survival of everything I have sown apart from the petunias, which have very feeble looking seedlings that I think would die if you shouted at them too loudly. I shall see how I get on, but maybe a petunia is a plant that is better to buy as a plug plant than as a seed.

Today there was some additional plant excitement because our consignment of plants for the communal area outside my house had arrived. I don’t think I mentioned before that Alborough Garden Design, the firm we employed to do the whole job, sadly went bust after they had laid our turf and dug over the shrubberies but before they had worked out a detailed planting plan. So we had to find someone else to complete the job. I asked my usual landscaping contractor whether he could recommend a garden designer, and he put me in touch with Susie Bower. Susie has chosen some really lovely things that you wouldn’t see on an average estate. This makes it much more exciting. Because the firm that went bust was cheaper than everyone else, we had to make our budget stretch a bit further, and we did this by agreeing that we would do the planting ourselves. So tomorrow I am hoping that enough people will brave the cold and come and dig some holes.

Note added later: Sadly Susie Bower is no longer in business as a garden designer. This is a great shame, as she did a great job not just for us, but for two of my friends too.