Friday 28 August 2020

By design

Seed head - without petals after the storm
Add 0 to 1, you get 1
Add 1 to 1, you get 2
Add 1 to 2, you get 3
Add 2 to 3, you get 5
Add 3 to 5, you get 8. See the idea? You add the number you have got to the preceding number. The sequence builds like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and so on. It is known as the Fibonacci series (or sequence) after the mathematician who described it way back in the Middle Ages (1202 AD) – although it had been spotted long before then in other cultures
The sequence appears a lot in nature and ‘explains’ the fascinating spiral patterns seen in seed heads such as the sunflower from my garden. One of the myriad examples of design in nature and, for me, evidence of the hand (or, rather, mind!) of the Creator. Fifty years ago, when I was a schoolteacher, I found that children were fascinated by these patterns. I wish that I had then what we have now – exciting means to illustrate the amazing beauty of these patterns

Only this week, when driven in by the rain, I discovered a wonderfully artistic animation on the web. To my delight, I found that the originator (
Cristóbal Vila) allows the use of his work in a situation such as this blog. Enjoy! (But please see the footnote after my sign-off below, I like to fully respect the work of others)

Some of Codger's outdoor crop

More maths
Not so much mathematics but figures, certainly. The Horticulture Trade Association has reported a massive increase in sales as garden centres reopened after lockdown – a 90% increase on last year. And Suttons, the seed company, claim a 900% increase in the sales of Gardener’s Delight – the popular tomato – according to the magazine Garden Answers
I do hope all those tomatoes are ripening well – the weather has not been exactly in our favour since that really hot spell. However, that is a lot better than having a sudden glut. Patience will be rewarded as the season continues. I am able to pick a few each day which suit us well
A Codger hanging basket
in a client's garden
It is good to hear from quite a few ‘clients’ that they are also getting good results. Not just from the tomatoes but also from other plants they had from us. Thanks for getting in touch to tell us. And, thanks too, for the donations for BCM that continue to feed through. I’m beginning to wonder if we may not hit £2000 before the first frost, which might seem a sensible cut-off point

And more stats
Many readers will be aware that Birmingham has been put on the governments Covid watchlist, joining Sandwell where we are situated, just next door. I ought to explain that as a borough Sandwell is really a conglomeration of six towns: Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury and West Bromwich (a longer list is possible!). Following the publicity, I began to suspect that Tipton, where we are, is less adversely affected that the west of the borough. Our figures are more in line with our bigger neighbour, Dudley

My interest piqued, I now find that a detailed local picture is publicly available on the web. If you would like to know the state-of-things where you are the steps are very simple … 
Tipton, now part of Sandwell
has a proud industrial heritage
First go here (the site). You will see the familiar graph that is shown daily on the TV news. Next scroll down bottom right where is says: cases by local area in England. Click on View map and you will get a zoomable map for the whole country. Then, simply enter your postcode and you will be able to see the updated figure for your immediate vicinity. The power of the web - here ends our public service announcement!

[Perhaps I should mention that you are taken down to a local unit designated as MSOA (cryptically named Middle Super Output Area!). These statistical units have an average population of 7,200. You can get more info about this on the official site, if interested]

Let's get back to gardening. Apart from trudging around the web, what else has old Codger been doing this week? 

Tree sadly gone - spot the spot! 
The answer may come as rather a surprise. Mrs Codger presented him with a job ticket which read: “Remove tree overgrowing neighbour’s drive”. It was labelled ACTION IMMEDIATE, so he weathered the storm and set about the task of taking down the offending Rowan tree. Back in 1990, the developers of our estate dutifully planted trees in many of the front gardens. Sadly, a lot of these have since disappeared and I was reluctant to add to the loss, especially as I had propped the thing up during its troubled adolescence (Street View on Google maps is evidence, notice it is labelled 2009)

Axe marks the spot
No doubt troubled by the sight of an old man wielding an axe, various passers-by stopped to speak to me. One was a neighbour who has a haulage business. Very kindly, he offered a wagon that would pluck the stump from the ground with a grab. Perfect! Sensibly, he advised me to severe the roots that were headed for the next-door drive. This I did. Immediately, I found the stump could be wiggled rather like a loose tooth. A few more deft blows with the trusty axe meant that the stump was free! I should add that Leigh’s intervention in the storm was extremely timely. I would have struggled to bring the tree down on my own without causing damage. He made short work of reducing it to a pile of logs with his bow saw (see photo)
The stump has only surface roots

In the event, the mechanical grab not needed. And the photograph shows why – stunted roots. As I had always suspected it had never been planted properly – just plonked on top of builder’s rubble, the crime concealed by poorly laid turf. This was par for the course with our builder – the now deservedly defunct Midland & General. But that’s another story

A garden design project
So, we have a new project: redesign the front garden - but within tight constraints. We will definitely retain the other rowan - it is a good specimen. The essential decision will be whether to go for a another tree or shrub. I may even have an idea. Whichever, it will be good to have an autumn/winter project. I don't do well when I cannot get outside
A possible contender
Which reminds me. I mentioned The Secret Garden last week. Now I am delighted to discover that they are donated half of their profits to Thrive, the mental health charity. You can read about Thrive here

Some plants for you - and more!
I spent time last weekend updating the plant list. Anyone living locally is welcome look at what I have got. For example, some lovely young salvias that would settle in well if planted now - and lots, lots more - fancy some delicious rhubarb?

And there are the RHS magazines I mentioned last week

I kid you not - young koi available

And, I mean it, koi carp. Well bred, well mannered and in a range of colours - come and choose your own!

Meanwhile in the boiler room
I have to mention our gracious host, Google, before we finish. The new Blogger software is still rather buggy. I only use it at a simple level but am still finding font handling issues

So, I am sorry if you suddenly encounter an unexpected change in typeface or a poor layout. The fonts seem to have a life of their own. On the other hand, the service is free and you are not distracted by advertisements

I'm now settling down to a weekly blog. You'll usually find it on a Friday but please allow a bit of flexibility. Thanks for reading ...

... best wishes from the old Garden Codger

Footnote on the videoI had not previously come across the work of Cristóbal Vila. He has his own website and much of his work is available on both Vimeo and Youtube. Well worth further investigation if you like stunningly good artwork and animations - highly recommended - the video above will speak for itself
Readers' photosTwo from abroad today - both from very good friends. Elly in Holland is letting us see their backyard and Greg in Australia shares yesterday's sunset. Thank you, both


Beaumaris, Victoria

Thursday 20 August 2020

Looking ahead

Walkway acorn - a future mighty oak?
We continue to get out to the walkway as often as we can - operating on the basis of a semi-lockdown – what you might call ‘being careful’. We generally find local folk helpful in this regard, maintaining social distancing and so forth. As the summer has advanced, there is less to comment upon by way of flowers but it is good to see local oaks (still young) producing acorns fairly copiously

Hawthorn berries and seeds - also from walkway
We are also glad to see the hawthorns with their red berries following such glorious blossom in the Spring. I still have my eye on the trees that had the double-red flower - in the hope that the berries will provide some viable seed

I have just tested a few. Learning from online videos (I am no expert – an absolute rooky, in fact) the trick is to remove the outer coating and then drop the seed into water. Non-viable seed is said to float. My three seeds all sank – so an encouraging start but, as we mentioned last week, it is a long process

Longer than I first thought as I have now read that hawthorns take 20 years to come into flower! So, if I do get viable seeds and they produce plants that grow to maturity, then it is posterity that will benefit from the result

Old greenhouse still useful
Looking forward
In the vein of such looking forward perhaps I might share my thinking about Codger’s future intentions. As we have said previously our number one priority is to support Angela and Keith Webb’s annual charity plant sale next year. As you can see from the photograph, we are already stocking up for that. The old plastic greenhouse is ideal for bringing on the 144 plug plants I received last week – the more plants / the better the deal! The sale is scheduled for end of May or the beginning of June 2021 by which time we should have a good stock of established plants

A few of the many plants in old Codger's Nursery
In addition to this I have built up a stock of plants that will be available in the Spring. My current thinking is to keep old Codger going and to offer these on the same basis as this year. We now have the benefit of that experience. The most successful part of the operation was making up boxes of plants to order. We hope that will work again but only experience will decide. It is worth a try, I think

Here and now
We still have plants ‘off the shelf’, so to speak, available now so please get in touch if you think we can help you out. I apologise that the plant page (click top right) still needs updating but I will get round to it. My excuse is that hot spell that did knock me a bit but, feathers shaken, I’m back on my feet

Sweet Pea Old Spice - healthy plants
To prove it, here is a new offer: Sweet Peas! Yes, it seems to late but not with old Codger. We have a few young, strong plants available – and in two ways. You can just have the plants – or, place an order and I shall make up a lovely pot for you. Ideal to bring colour and perfume to the patio! The variety is Old Spice grown by Woolmans – an extremely reliable and well-respected grower. If you like what you get we simply ask that you make a donation to BCM via our webpage here
Can you smell them?

A badly kept secret
Speaking of growers, one of our regular readers told me about The Secret Garden Club. I am so glad that I have given this a try. Having often wondered how the trade deals with surplus stock I was impressed with this smooth operation – and very satisfied with the plants I ordered. Stuff that you do not see advertised anywhere else – and free delivery on orders over £20. Very well packed and delivered by a good courier. There is nothing not to like – click here!

Perhaps I should reiterate that I have absolutely no commercial interest with any garden supplier. Drop me an email and I’ll tell you how to get an extra discount!

The ordinary variety
William Morris for gardeners
If you watch the ‘Antiques Roadshow’ or, perhaps, ‘Flog-it!’, you may have encountered the William Morris quotation; “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I expect the gardening equivalent would be along the lines of “Always go for the best variety”. Let me give an example …

Named variety being planted
One plant that rapidly spreads in our garden in Alchemilla mollis, or Lady’s Mantle. Its distinguishing feature is the way that water droplets sit upon the leaves. Whilst flicking through the Secret Garden pages I came across a named variety which looks a bit more interesting, so I have planted that alongside to compare. In another part of the garden I have found that the common aquilegia is rampant, so I have replaced these with a few of the variety Mrs Scott Elliott – a lovely pale yellow. So, a bit of an experiment to keep an eye on

Magazines and the Cosmos
I have only just discovered, by accident, that there is more than one type of cosmos. Mrs Codger gets a subscription copy of the magazine garden Answers each month. With it we usually get a free packet of seeds. Such a packet produced the bright orange cosmos in this photograph. It turns out that the form usually grown is Cosmos bipinnatus - no complaint, I like them. But helpful to have the alternative Cosmos sulphureus

Cosmos sulphureus - aptly named
On the subject of magazines, I have back numbers of the RHS magazine, The Garden. This must surely be regarded as the premier gardening mag. Beautifully produced and authoritatively written, its articles are worthy of study. However, we have reached what we expect to be the final declutter. I cannot bring myself to throw them away. Anyone interested?

The new normal
As we readjust (I'll tell you about the local situation another time) I have rather less time for blogging than during lockdown. In any case, after so many episodes, I am in danger of sharing my extensive ignorance rather than my limited knowledge. However, your interest is appreciated and I plan to be back next week. By which time I aim to have the plant list updated. In the meantime, let me share a small success. The picture below shows an orchid that, we thought, had expired. A little greenhouse TLC and here is the result ...

... best wishes from the old Garden Codger

Kolibri orchid (in the recovery ward)

Friday 14 August 2020

Beat by the heat

We are really behind with everything. Sorry to blame the heat but, sadly, we cannot take it the way we once did. Sun is fine but the heat knocks us out. In the garden, poor old Codger did a bit here and a bit there but only very slowly

And as for getting near a computer – no chance, my brain seemed frazzled by the heat. So, we were very thankful for the rain when it came – and come it did (see photo towards the end)

But first, a word about the white rose that we found growing wild on the side of our nearby walkway that was once a canal. 
I photographed the rose in late May – a lovely single white flower – and made a mental note of where it was located. Returning last week to obtain material for cuttings, I was surprised to find the bush in flower again. When we walked that way on Thursday I was wondering if the last few blooms had been demolished by the storm – some of our garden plants having taken a hit. A chance to get a final photograph? 

There was one flower left. We were struck by its simple beauty – now suffused, as it was, by a delicate pink shade which I hope shows up in this latest photograph

You won’t be surprised to learn that I immediately checked my cuttings – so far, so good – still signs of life. I sense that the humidity in the greenhouse has helped

I would love to know more about this rose and hope very much to use it in our garden

Walkway hawthorn taken beginning of May - note the double flower
Hawthorn again
I mentioned last week that I am hoping to produce some hawthorn plants by taking hardwood cuttings. I have now had chance to look this up and find that I am way too early. Several online videos suggest that I would do better propagating from seed.

This involves macerating the berries to extract the seed which has then to be over-wintered before sowing the following year. It appears that the main ingredient for success is patience. Whether by cuttings or by seed it takes two years to get a result
Vert petit de Paris

Funny shade of green
Speaking of results, this photograph shows a gherkin (which is actually a small cucumber). The variety is, I’m told, a French classic: vert petit de Paris. I could not get ‘ordinary’ cucumber see because of lockdown so settled for this French variety which looks to me in need of a new name. Does anyone know the French for ‘sun-tanned’?

With apologies
Only time for a short post this week. As explained above, our main problem has been dealing with heat - and not just by day. Wednesday's deluge was impressive. I reckon that we had over 100mm of rain (inc hail!)

The photograph shows the depth in old money (and, rather cleverly, reveals the identity of the photographer!)

Our plant list is now way out of date so I must work on it tomorrow. We still have plants available

Finally, the shot below shows another reward from the walkway although I wish our local blackbirds went for these rather than the blueberries in our garden

Best wishes from a rather weary Garden Codger

We got strange looks when picking these - perhaps folks think they are poisonous?

Thursday 6 August 2020

Sun flowers

Greeting the sun
early this morning
Old Codger is writing this blog post a day early, on Thursday rather than Friday. High temperatures are promised tomorrow, and he does not do at all well in the heat. Our Dutch friends tell me it is already hot there – in the upper thirties. So, please excuse a rather shorter blog today so we can get things done without being “mad dogs of Englishmen … out in the midday sun”

It seems rather appropriate to feature a sunflower. Apart from one, all our sunflowers are self-seeded – escapees from the birdfeeder. The spiral pattern in the seed head is amazing. Just as though it has been designed, I always think. Now, there’s a thought …

Ever noticed the pattern?
Tomatoes doing well?
How are your tomatoes doing? I am getting good reports of the bush tomatoes we supplied ready-planted in large pots. The variety, Cerise, seems to perform well producing lots of small, sweet fruit. Mine are somewhat behind as I let all the early plants go. Watering is really important, of course – plus a weekly feed and remember to tie in the growth as they get bigger. Picking the ripe fruit encourages the others - you don’t have to wait for the whole truss to ripen

Outdoor bush tomato ripening today - The Amateur, I think
As well as Cerise, I am interested to see how an old bush variety does. It is called The Amateur so suits me very well. There is another bush variety called Falcorosso that looks promising. You may remember that I was limited by what seeds I could lay my hands on at the beginning of lockdown – is there a variety called Hobson’s Choice, I wonder? Moneymaker (cordon type) and the Lidl standard, Hertzfuer, are both doing well – they are in the greenhouse and also outside growing in a raised bed

Spring propagation
Home-brew propagator
Back in March, when we were sowing the seed, I was using a bit of persuasion to get them started. Over the years I have graduated from a small electric seed tray propagator to several homebrew editions. As this may interest DIYers, I have taken a couple of photographs. The carcass is a drawer from an old kitchen cabinet – a handy size for taking three seed trays

The heat is provided by a sealed flexible element. Basically, a length of cable with a three-pin mains plug. The one shown is 11 watts, I seem to remember. It was supplied by a company called Elixir – ordered via Amazon. Different sizes are available, and I now have three homemade propagators utilising different power ratings. The same company also supplies thermostatic controllers which I use on my largest job

Heating cable
(normally covered by sand)
In the example shown, the cable is laid as a spiral (photo left). The covering of sand is necessary in order to spread the heat and to absorb spilt water. I have moved the sand to one side so you can see what is going on beneath. All three propagators did their job well this Spring producing hundreds of seedlings. Some of those plants may well be growing away in your garden at the moment

More propagation
In the previous post I mentioned the cuttings I have taken from the wayside white rose. Both sets, covered and uncovered, look fine at the moment – but it is early days. I have also taken some hardwood cuttings from the hawthorn I fancied in the Spring – a double red growing on the local walkway

I am not optimistic about this but it seems silly not to try. As you can see, I have inserted them in a slit trench. Each one has received slightly different treatment. We can only wait and see. If I can find time, I shall try to read up on the methods available to me. But I am told that hawthorn is a difficult subject to propagate. Our garden is terminated by hawthorn (on the school field side). Sadly, it never flowers so I am wondering if I can introduce this better variety

Cuttings apart ...
... we have plenty of young plants coming on. Things like a very nice variety of aquilegia (Mrs Scott Elliott) which is a lovely pale yellow. I am just about to update the list (see Plants for You, top right - I shall try to do the updating over the weekend)

Apricot dahlia
Lots of plants coming on
For now, let me just push Rudbeckia Prairie Sun again. These are just bursting into flower and should go on flowering into October. They can even stay in their pots – just place them in the border – instant gardening! You will also get flowers this autumn from dahlias – we have a few available. Usual message - if you need plants, just get in touch

Due to other pressures, I am planning on just one post next week – towards the end of the week, I think. Until then ….

… best wishes from the old Garden Codger

Post Script
Lepidopterist Alert! Spotted yet another butterfly today. Our best guess regarding identity is a Wall - of which we have never previously heard. Trying to check this, I've stumbled across an excellent website. You can find it here

A Wall resting on a Turk's Turban - odd as that sounds!

Tuesday 4 August 2020

That heron!

I have just come in from the garden where I was cautiously observing our morning visitor – the heron! Perhaps I should say, a heron rather than the heron. It seemed rather smaller than the one who usually visits. And, for once, I was able to get a picture. Not as close as I wanted so I have blown it up a bit

There is also a shot of the getaway. As you can see, a rather gloomy start to the day

My heron interest has been sharpened as I noticed yesterday that the ghost carp (aka nuclear sub) has sustained some damage to its bodywork. Sadly, looks like it needs a paint job.

I do hope I did not knock him when doing maintenance work in the pond last week. There is little you can do for an injured fish. Small ones can be caught and separated if you have the facilities. No chance of that with our old friend. I’ll keep an eye on her. (I say her – thinking that would account for the super-abundance of small fish that tend to gather as a flotilla around the mother ship. I must find an expert to ask.)

Herons are fairly common around here because of the many canals. Very many of the canals date right back to the industrial revolution - our local 'cut' was opened in 1769. It was built to carry coal from the local coalfields to Birmingham. It sees hardly any commercial traffic today, rather it is a favoured spot for anglers – and herons, of course

During lockdown, many friends seem to have rediscovered our local canal network – great places to walk. And they are on the flat – that suits us. Straying slightly farther afield, we took a pleasant stroll along the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal recently

There, they seem to have herons that are more accustomed to photographers and I managed to get this shot

Meanwhile …
… back in the garden we continue to track butterflies. (Mrs Codger takes the lead on this this – I just tip-toe behind with camera.)

Perhaps we tend to notice them more because of the overall drop in numbers. My attention was drawn to the one shown here as the folded wings seemed so very black. I had no idea from the initial view of what sort it could be. Patience paid off and I was rewarded by a rare chance to get a good shot of a Peacock in its full glory

Another surprise!
Somehow a sweet pea had strayed into the main flower border. A lovely pale blue. Stray plants generally prosper – obviously, they know what they like. Anyway, I thought it worth a quick shot

To my delight, it had a visitor! I pretty sure that it must be a moth – so tiny yet with such detailed and distinct markings. I love the classic delta shape. Can anyone tell me what it is?

More blue
Readers will have learned that Codger is partial to soft fruit - homegrown fruit, that is. In fact, in our division of culinary labour, he is responsible for desserts, so it is very much my season at the moment. We have judiciously worked our way through rhubarb, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, redcurrants, gooseberries and plums. This brings us to blueberries which are in season right now

I mention this for a reason. If you do not have much space, blueberries are a great option. I have found that they do very well in containers – often better, in fact, than in the ground. But they must have ericaceous compost and, being container-bound, they will need a feed – a slow-release fertiliser is best with a drop of tomato-feed during the fruiting season. You can see my results - my hand will give you the scale

Two offers
I have some blueberry plants available at the moment. Good varieties – early, mid and late season. Please say soonest if you are interested. They are young healthy plants and promise to do well. And, just to remind you, I also have some rhubarb plants. They were potted up a couple of weeks ago and are doing well

Completely different
Before we finish, let me tell you about a failure – and an attempted recovery. You may remember that a couple of months back we discovered a lovely single white rose growing on the side of our local walkway. (The photo was taken in late May.) 

I subsequently took some cuttings in the hope of growing a plant in our own garden.It seems to cope with shade so I have a place, or two, in mind. Now, I am not great with cuttings but, even so, was annoyed with myself for letting them dry out. They looked as though they had made a good start

So, I am having another go and doing a bit of an experiment at the same time. Using fresh cuttings, taken over the weekend, I have planted up two sets. Both are in earthenware pots (although I see that experts disagree on the clay/plastic debate)

We are often told to cover the cuttings with a plastic bag. I have often found this rather troublesome - the bag flops and awkward to handle. As an alternative, I have deployed an old plastic goldfish bowl as you can see in this photograph

The second set I shall leave uncovered and see what does best. Both sets are in the greenhouse nestled among other plants in the hope of conferring the desired humidity

Incidentally, cuttings need, what is called, a sharp mix so I have added plenty of grit to the potting compost. You may remember that herein is another experiment/ruse - using chicken grit as a (much) cheaper alternative to expensive horticultural grit

We shall see. Our time has gone. More on propagation on Friday and a bit more on plant availability - our stock is rapidly increasing ...

... with best wishes from Garden Codger

Patio plants brightening up an otherwise dull day