Saturday 27 November 2021

After - and before!

After ...
Some editions of this blog just don't want to leave the departure lounge. They sit there waiting for a rewrite until they are no longer news
So old codger is breaking through the lassitude in an attempt to launch this post whilst the snow is still on the ground. He was awakened at five this morning by the howling wind. About six, it went very quiet - I guess that's when the snow fell. The photo (above left) shows our garden a couple of hours later

... before
Up to now, of course, we have had an amazingly mild autumn - they reckon a

couple of degrees above average for the time of year. Early this week I took this shot (right) of a sweet pea that keeps flowering - there are even some further buds waiting to emerge but perhaps that won't happen now. The pot is just yards away on the patio where the old water pump, shown above, is situated

On the same day we took advantage of the sparkling sunshine to visit Mrs Codger's favourite walk - tuther side of Claverley from here. I'll put a few photos at the foot of this edition - we call it our secret walk

After ...
Spring Bulbs
My next 'after' shot shows containers of of Spring bulbs - obviously after the snow - taken just this morning. The photo below show the same pots earlier this week when we had the sunshine. If you look back to the previous edition (Spring Bulbs anyone?) you'll get the picture

I can hardly believe that it five weeks ago when I wrote about the Spring bulbs. Since then I have had to work around around a number of distractions but, between times, have been busy planting up more containers. Thanks to everyone who has been in touch - and especially to those who have called in - over a hundred pounds-worth have been sold. All for charity, of course - see next item including the BCM Toylink video

... before
My usual practice has been to take donations online but, responding to requests, I have put a price on the Spring bulb containers. The price reflects the cost of the pot, the planting medium (see below) and the bulbs. Some containers contain one layer and others two - usually tulips and daffodils

In addition, I managed to source some really posh large pots - these have three layers (so-called lasagne planting) so cost more - £25 - but we have plenty of pots and troughs much cheaper than that - even £2.50 if you go for a lucky dip

Blushing Lady

The cold has driven me indoors today but I still have a few containers to plant up. Perhaps I ought to say that in addition to the combo I mentioned last time (tulip Sunset Shades and daffodil Belle Vista) I have some more really lovely combinations

Planting bulbs is an exercise of faith. However, trusting reliable suppliers, I am optimistic about the tulip Slava grown together with the narcissus Blushing Lady. See what you think to the photos

There's also something new. I have stumbled across what looks like large grape hyacinth but isn't. Same blue colour but larger - correctly called Bellevalia rather than Muscari which is the correct botanical name for the more usual, but smaller, grape hyacinth. The shade of blue varies between plants giving a pleasing mix 

I have also been working on a range of alliums - no time for this now - hopefully next in the next edition. Rather, what I would like to do is give some hints about successful bulb planting based on my experience over the last few years. But first, for those not familiar with Toylink - a short video about this really worthwhile cause:

So, if you would like to help - why not have a container of Spring bulbs from Codger? Plenty in stock and I can do more if necessary

Drainage, drainage, drainage
Successful bulb planting
You can pick up bulbs cheaply as we come to the end of the season so, should you wish to do your own, the mantra has to be this: drainage, drainage, drainage

Ninety-nine percent of bulbs hate wet conditions (camassias are said to be an exception but Codger has not found that to be the case). I do two things to get good drainage - assuming the obvious - holes in the bottom of the pot! 

Smaller sizes available - this is 100 litres!
First, some form of drainage at the bottom. Old crocks (broken clay pot) are usually recommended but I never have enough so off we go to B&Q. A bag of 10mm shingle only costs £2.50 or so - and does the job well. I usually wash it first, just to be safe. I picked up a couple of bags for only two pounds yesterday - you often come across burst bags that are reduced

Second - this is really important - it is best not to use general purpose potting compost straight from the bag - the standard material holds the water far to much and risks rottin gthe bulb. I lighten the mix with perlite (vermiculite does the same job but is more expensive). In fact, the best combination I have found is to add say 25% perlite to a vegetable growing bag - that gives a really good consistency 

Add for more oomph!
I always incorporate a little garden soil or my own compost to spark a bit of life. If I'm unsure about fertility I sprinkle some blood, fish and bone into the mix. But not too much - in a container it can go rancid - it's an organic product, of course. Since the pot will sit around few a few months, I like to finish off with a top dressing of grit. Apart from other considerations, it looks a lot nicer

Just one H&S point: keep your Covid PPE mask handy. Handling perlite gets me coughing in seconds - there's always a lot of very fine dust. And breathing in the dust from blood, fish and bone is not too great either

Gardening on TV
Now Gardener's World is taking its winter break you may wish to know about a couple of series that you can watch on catch-up. Carol Klein has had a good autumn series on Channel Five. There are several programmes - this one deals with bulbs

And a fascinating two-part job on BBC. Wildlife photographer, Colin Stafford-Johnson, converts his country patch in Ireland into a wildlife garden. Codger found this fascinating - you can find it here

Quick update
What else has Codger been up to in November? Well, dealing with unwelcome wildlife has been one preoccupation. There is a downside to being a keen composter. The clue is in the photo (left). I've even resorted to moving my compost containers - this extended the old chap a bit - I tend to over-engineer such things. I dare not guess how much the reinforced bin weighs

The cheeky visitor had been removing the compost and using it to build a nest in the adjacent hawthorn hedge belonging to the school at the bottom of the garden. 
When time has permitted, I've done other essential maintenance in that neglected part of the garden - perhaps more on this next time. I owe you an item of growing raspberries and redcurrants

And only today, Mrs Codger consumed the last of our tomatoes. Despite the battle with blight we did well - eating almost into December! Plums were good, too - and figs. But we failed with our pear tree this year. Looks good, doesn't it - but this was the one solitary pear!

Well, folks, I'll try to get another edition in before Christmas. Until them I'll add a few more seasonal photos - please see below

Don't forget the Spring bulb Toylink offer. It would be great to boost the funds a bit more

Best wishes from ....

... the old Garden Codger

Postscript. Before I add the photos - did you hear Michael Morpurgo's poem dedicated to those poor souls who died in the channel this week? It is haunting. You can see the BBC video here

Camellia brought down by last night's storm - now fixed - no harm that I can see

On our walk earlier in the week

The first batch of Spring bulb planting - mostly now sold - but more to come!

Figs have been good

I'll give you the recipe sometime

This is a 'before' - the frost has now got them - time to dig up the tubers - a job for next week

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Spring bulbs anyone?

Tulip Sunset Shades
This edition has sat in the departure lounge rather too long. I'll explain the reasons for that later but, right now, I want to give the idea of Spring bulbs a bit of a push

Old Codger is planning to plant up soon and will have a range of pots, troughs and other planters on offer. We did this last year as a somewhat last-minute idea but demand was good, probably because we connected it with the BCM Toylink appeal - something we intend to repeat. It was gratifying to receive some lovely feedback from readers in the Spring - many sending in photos of their blooming containers

So you know what is in store, here is advance information of a winning combination: the daffodil Belle Vista (right) and the tulip Sunset Shades (above)

These will be planted lasagne-fashion in two layers. This means you get the daffs first followed by the tulips - both bringing cheer to what is often a dull part of the year. Advance orders are welcome. Usual terms: collect and then make a donation to BCM. I don't mind if you delay the donation to the Spring - you might be so pleased that you give a bit extra!

As I say, we will be connecting this with BCM's excellent Toylink initiative. More news due due course

Mencap Marvels
Continuing on the charity side of things, I would thank  those readers who responded to the Mencap Channel Swimmers performance

The success of the relay swim resulted in a deluge of donations. There were two teams swimming last month. Before the event money was trickling in but then, as their success was recognised, a flood of interest took their sponsorship over their £25,000 target

More may have come in since, you can get the latest figure here

Plenty of stock
Just a reminder that we are pretty well stocked with perennials at the moment - the photo (right) shows a tiny amount of a much larger range

Although temperatures are starting to cool a little now, there's still time to plant a few if you are intent on improving your border whist the soil is still reasonably warm

Codger will be working on his own border arrangements during the next few weeks. This is a good time to split clumps that have outgrown their position

Feel free to get in touch if you are gap filling - I reckon we will have more than enough to go round
I've just been out to see how the stock plants are doing. We still have a surprising amount of colour. As you can see the garnet penstemon is still looking good and, as is normal, the rudbeckia is still in flower

Ivy makes a good screen
I don't think I've mentioned ivy much in this blog. Ivy is one of our true natives - this means that it will usually do well. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a parasite. So, for example, it does not take goodness from a tree - rather, it merely uses the tree as a support

When we moved into our property thirty years ago, we had a see-through hedge belonging to the school at the bottom of the garden - a hawthorn hedge. Today, it is no longer semi-transparent due to the vigorous growth of the ivy that I planted into the 10 metre wide hedge. Two or three ivy plants very quickly established and gave us the privacy we sought - and also provided a sanctuary for birds. Robins seem to love it. Ivy is evergreen, of course
The back hedge - ivy growing through hawthorn

The ivy is prolific in flowers this year
I think this relates to its stage of growth -
I've heard reference made to arboreal ivy
Incidentally, I have discovered that English Ivy, as they call it, it prevalent throughout the United States - yet was not introduced there until the late 18th century. Its vigour in our garden needs control, otherwise the soft fruit area gets too heavily shaded. However, I have noticed that the top growth is bearing lots of flowers this year. Great news for the wildlife so I'm leaving plenty of it so that the insects have some autumn and winter feed

The hawthorn, through which the ivy climbs, also needs control. Although it is not my hedge I do exercise a bit of autonomy and cut back the growth that is above six feet in height

I believe that the law requires me to give this surplus growth back to the school. However, the needle-sharp thorns would be a hazard to the children so my judgement is that the trimmings are best consigned to the council green bin

Hawthorn top growth removed
and destined for the green council bin
In past years a contractor has trundled along the full length of the hedge with a tractor fitted with a hedge cutter. This is badly needed to keep the thing within bounds - although, as stated in an earlier blog, I would prefer the hedge to be properly laid. Looking at Google maps, I reckon that the hedge is 200m in length so, I reckon, an expensive job

I keep my side in check because of the loss of light. I grow raspberries alongside the hedge. I am pleased to say that they will take some shade - but not too much - hence my prickly exertions

Planting raspberries (part 2)
I feel another series coming on here. Having sown the green manure I decided that I had been too mean with the soil level in the raised bed. I have now added another three inches. This means that the green manure was incorporated sooner than planned - but no harm done

To be honest, Codger's plans often change and develop along the way. I've also decided to reduce the planting density - one of my weaknesses is a tendency to crowd too much in. The books recommend rows to be north/south. The closest I can get to that is a diagonal across the rectangular bed, as shown in the photo here

In the next edition I'll tell you about the raspberry varieties I'll be planting. Also how they are spaced and supported - I've learned a bit from previous mistakes. Look out for Part 3 in the series

Composting connoisseur
Perhaps I should mention that beneath the trench you can see marked out by the pair of strings is a hefty helping of garden compost (see the recent series on hot composting). Here's what my compost looks like - the sample shown is about six months old. Looks good, smells good and feels good. I imagine that it tastes good too - but Codger has not applied that particular test!

Extended season
Although we had a mixed September, until now, October temperatures have been above average. Looking around the garden I see that chrysanthemums have done well

I'm especially pleased with the dahlias - take a look at this one (photo left)

Despite the predations of blight, our tomatoes have done pretty well. The measures I took to protect the greenhouse plants slowed down the advance. I ended up removing individual plants successively. As you probably know, resistance against the disease varies from variety to variety

This one-by-one reduction leaves just four plants in the main greenhouse. Two of these are San Marzano - a variety I've not grown before. I imagine that they are the last to fruit as they need plenty of sun. Mine have done well but it took a long time to get there

Thinking I ought to check my facts, I have just Googled the variety and discovered that San Marzano - "growing in sun-drenched Camania in the sun-drenched volcanic fertile soil around Vesuvius" - is regarded as "Re Pomodoro - the King of Tomatoes"! The gourmet supplier I checked will let you have 12 cans for £27.50!

Before we finish this episode, here are three items that may interest regular readers ...

What bird is that?
Are you able to identify birds by their song? Well, I'm not too good - once we get past a crow or a blackbird, but help is available form the lady shown here, Lucy Hodson

She has some interesting pages on the BBC Radio site where she not only explains the different songs but is rhapsodic about them - rather appropriate, really. You can tune in here

A tuneful competition
Also on a musical note, fame awaits the composers who get shortlisted in this year's Christmas Carol Competition. The BBC has a panel of judges looking - or, rather, listening - for the best tune to Christina Rossetti's poem Love Came Down at Christmas. Just sing into your phone and you're away. You can find out more and listen to the words here

The BBC say: We’re looking for a cracking tune that’s memorable and can be easily learned by singers of all abilities. It can be any style you want: gospel, folk, contemporary or traditional hymn. It should be something that sounds great sung by a big choir or by your local carollers.

Wildlife friendly
I have just stumbled on a useful site that will interest those readers who wish to improve their gardens in a wildlife-friendly direction. The RSPB is running a project called Nature on your Doorstep. Their website has lots of information and suggestions - both written and in video form

Checking out their forums, I found an answer to question in my own mind. Is the fluctuating number of birds in my garden likely to attributable to the visits a sparrow hawk. Hardly surprising - but the answer is Yes. Anyway, the RSPB site is well worth a visit. You can start here

... and finally ...
... please let me know if you are interested in having Spring bulbs. Remember there will be a choice of pots or troughs in a range of sizes

You may have noticed the blog publication has been a bit erratic recently - down to a chest infection, I'm afraid. Butt we're bouncing back and flu jab tomorrow - and, hopefully, Covid booster soon after

With best wishes from the old Garden Codger

Friday 8 October 2021

Autumn photo edition

Codger's publishing plans often get disrupted. I think we have quoted Harold Macmillan before. When asked what was the greatest challenge for a politician, he answered, "Events, dear boy, events!"

Rather apt, at the moment, what with Covid, fuel for vehicles, HGV drivers and the emerging energy crisis

The event in Codger's case is the unwelcome embrace of some miscellaneous virus that got to him before the flu jab needle. In fact that injection was scheduled for this week - we played safe and delayed it whilst we cough and splutter

The upshot of all this that our planned edition of the blog is held over until the head clears a bit and we can write something approximating to sense

However, a brainwave - why not do a quick photo-tour of the garden? As you would expect, the colours are lovely in the autumn

The leaves, above, are those of the Witch Hazel - always good value at this time of year. They will be followed by those unusual spaghetti-like flowers - perhaps tagliatelle-like would be a better description

Here on the right you can see a chrysanthemum coming into its own. I'm told that they are coming back into fashion 

One of the attractions of roses is their ability to surprise. You think the show is over that then you suddenly spot another bloom shining out on a dull day

Working from memory this one (left) is Celebration - another David Austin rose. 

Perhaps we should venture forth and pay a last visit to the David Austin nursery - a convenient drive for us but sadly, because of lockdown, off our radar this year

Speaking of nurseries I bought this clematis from the clearance section recently. Getting it home, I found that the labels had got jumbled

I think it is Clematis Pilei - if that is the correct spelling. The label says Comtesse de Bouchaud but I'm not sure about that

It is said that autumn is a good time to plant clematis so, as soon as the chest clears and the sun shines, that's what we'll be doing

Do you recognise this one on the left?

Yes, it's a sunflower. I wrote in a recent blog how I never sow them as a deliberate act

They must self-seed as every year they reappear and grow tall - something like ten feet

I tend to leave the seed heads as winter feed for the birds. Plenty for them to go at here! 

On the subject of wildlife I conducted a little experiment this year ... 

One of the principles of organic gardening is that with patient management a wildlife balance can be achieved in the garden that avoids the use of harmful chemicals

The theory sounds great. But the practice can be trying when contending with an aphid attack. My French beans suffered such an assault - I think the inevitable black fly on the broad beans transferred their attention to their Gallic cousins

I decided to leave Nature to sort itself out - and I was fascinated to see what happened. The blackfly seems happy on just one or two plants so I left them to munch away. The rest of the crop produced prolifically - so I picked the unaffected pods, witness the sample you see above. And just today, whilst taking these photos, I saw that ladybirds were enjoying the blackfly

The purple-podded beans have been great - loads of beans and loads of flavour! (In case you missed an earlier blog, don't be put off by the colour - purple beans turn green as you cook them.)

Despite some losses due to blight, we have done well with tomatoes, too - as you can see on the left

It was worth growing the yellow variety just to create the display in the fruit bowl. The variety is Golden Sunrise - it did well against an outside wall

A bit of a plug next. Codger's Nursery is building up a good stock of perennials, many of which look really colourful in the autumn. A good example is this display of asters. We have both blues and purples. Let me know if you are  interested - it's good to see them whilst they are in flower

Another plant that comes into its own this time of year is the dahlia. I'm no expert but know they come in many different forms

Here below is a pom-pom variety - nice shade of apricot
Well, folks, that's our quick autumn photo tour - warming ourselves by the computer in the hope that we can soon be back out in the garden getting the many jobs done that require attention before the first frosts arrive

We hope to publish our next edition within a week - ten days at the most. I'm keen to tell you our plans for Spring bulb planters. We did this last year and raised a good sum for BCM Toylink - and are hoping to do so again ...

... so it's best wishes from that old Garden Codger!


Thursday 16 September 2021

The season turns ...

As summer begins its transition into autumn we can both look back and look forward. As with our potatoes (now consumed), so with the sunflowers. I never sow any - they appear without any Codgerly intervention each year, providing colour through into October and, even, November. In addition the large heads provide seeds for the birds well into the winter

I think we can also expect the Cana to go on blooming for a few weeks more, although I'm not sure that it is supposed to be as late as this. Unlike the sunflowers it does need a bit of attention, particularly protection through the winter. But I don't mind that. It was a B&Q rescue so I'm pleased to see it perform its colourful magic once again

Incidentally, when shopping at B&Q, Homebase, or the like it is well worth checking out the clearance trolley for bargains. I recently purchased a very nice clematis at half price

These seeds comprise four types
Speaking of retail, I'd like to put in a plug for The Range. Do you know the store? - mainly Midlands, I suspect. Earlier this week I needed some green manure seed and thought I'd pop in for look-see. (Green manure refers to a crop that is grown simply to keep bare soil productive, usually over the winter.) The crop might be rye grass, clover or mustard. The pack in the photo comprises four different types. These seeds can be hard to track down - yet The Range had half-a-dozen different packets from a variety of suppliers. In fact, their seed range was extensive - far greater than many garden centres

The old timbers now on their way out

Mind you, less attractive was the display of Christmas tat, if I dare put it that way. Shame the Suez canal blockage did not intervene - the containers obviously got through (I'm supposing most of the Xmas glitz is made in China). I'm afraid that we - Mrs Codger and I - like Christmas to be actually at Christmas

But I sound curmudgeonly, don't I? And I do make exceptions to the rule - see this week's tailpiece about Radio 3

[Newer readers please note: we have no pecuniary involvement with commercial companies. I mention this as some bloggers get an income stream from sponsors. There is nothing wrong with this, of course - provided the interest is declared.]

The raised bed, finished off with a top
dressing of garden compost

Raspberry restoration
Rather slowly, I'm trying to reorganise and improve the corner of the garden where my raspberries grow. The crop dropped off markedly this year so I was galvanised into action, as the saying goes. I had got them growing in a raised bed which tends to dry out too much. Moreover, the wooden planking was rotting off and needed replacing so the task became one of rebuilding the raised bed ahead of planting up fresh stock.

The new plants won't arrive for two or three months so, having finished the raised bed, I have sown the green manure. Looking today, I see that it has germinated within just a few days. Although we are halfway into September the ground is still warm so many seeds will get away quickly. When I plant the new raspberries I shall either dig in the green manure or harvest it for the compost heap

This what happens to untreated wood
- an entirely natural process, of course. 
Raised bed lessons
In redoing the raised bed I applied the lessons learned over the ten years or so the old ones have been in place (or fifteen years, I cannot honestly remember - twenty?). 

When I did the original beds I used untreated timber as I had read that treated timber would contaminate the soil. This photo shows the result - the soil contaminates the timber!

So, this time I used treated timber - standard decking, in fact. As a precaution I lined the beds with plastic sheeting in the form of reused compost bags. This accounts for the untidy finish but a quick trim will put that right

The tools give a sense of the scale
You can see about a 10 inch drop in level
I also lowered the bed a bit. This will make it easier to increase the proportion of organic material and thus the fertility of the soil in the bed. You can tell the drop from this photo (right) - I deliberately left one plant in situ so I could illustrate the point

Lowering the bed has produced surplus soil - a further advantage in that I now have a supply of soil for potting. The nature of the Codger project means that I am a net exporter of soil!

Although I have ordered new plants, I have potted up quite a few from the old bed. This is partly as a precaution and partly in order to supply others. Raspberry plants available - enquire within

The dreaded blight
The battle against blight
Following on from the experience I related in our previous post, I have continued to deal with tomato blight. The measures I took have largely contained the outbreak. Not wishing to discourage others who have been less successful I must stress that the word is contain rather than cure

So far, only one plant in the greenhouse has gone down. I did my best to remove it gently so the spores did not get dispersed. Not all of my outdoor plants have been affected. I think this indicates that swift and drastic action can limit the damage. Really, it is a matter of buying enough time for fruit to ripen

[Since writing this paragraph I see warning signs on a couple more plants. As a precaution, I have removed the nearly ripe fruit to finish off away from the suspect vines]

Uchiki kuri - a delicious squash and easy to grow
Something more pleasant ...
... much more pleasant, in fact. Do you like butternut squash? If you have tried growing them you may, perhaps, have found them a little difficult

I think I have found the answer: uchiki kuri. 
This is a Japanese squash. Personally, I find the flavour rather better than shop-bought butternut. When eating, the squash is prepared in much the same way as butternut: cut in half, remove the pith and slice off the rind. You can boil or bake - if you boil, 10 minutes is easily enough

I'm looking forward to harvesting our largest. I'll report back when I do

Perhaps you can see the area we scarified
A new project
I know it is the trendy thing to do but worthwhile nevertheless - that is, creating a wildflower meadow. Well, hardly a meadow but a patch at least. You can just discern in this photo (left) - a darkened circle halfway back. Wildflowers increase insect diversity as well as having their own charm

Codger has not tried this before but was keen to help when asked by the garden's owner. You can see that the garden is long and mainly put down to grass

The first step was to cut the grass in the chosen area. (Actually, in our case, we had let the grass grow long for a season just see what wild flowers might appear without our intervention: we did get some - mainly of ragwort). After cutting the grass we thoroughly scarified the patch. The photo shows the sort of rake you need - it should have sprung tines. Finally, we sowed the seed. Easy as 1-2-3!
Yellow Rattle is parasitic to grass
But there's a twist. In addition to the the general wildflower seed mix, which is easily obtainable, you need a packet of Yellow Rattle seed. All the books say that Yellow Rattle is essential to the process since it is parasitic to grass. Weakened by the Yellow Rattle, the grass provides less competition allowing the wild flowers to take hold

Now is just the time to sow the seed which, I'm told, must be fresh. It's probably best to order online from a company that guarantees that the seed has been harvested this year

The seed mix should be dormant over winter and germinate in the Spring. As regards the wildflower seeds, there are any number of mixes readily available. Sowing in the autumn rather than in the Spring increases the chance of germination. Many readers will have heard of vernalisation - the process whereby a cold period triggers the later germination of seeds   

Well, our time seems to have gone. And I have not done the Christmas item I mentioned at the beginning - must remember that next time

BBC North West interviewing Katie Ann and fellow swimmers
Channel swim
However, there is a news extra that I cannot pass over - the channel swim. In case you need a reminder: Our 15-yearold granddaughter has been in training for the past 12 months in order to participate in a cross channel relay swim

On Sunday morning they did it! Katie Ann was first in and last out - being the one to make landfall in France. She did three one-hour swims in all. The second squad followed on Tuesday - also successfully. You can see the Facebook videos here

 Sponsorship has grown rapidly in the last few days. As we go to press £20,000 has been raised for their chosen charity, Mencap - their target is £25,000. Please click here is you feel inclined to help close the gap. Even if you don't give, it's worth reading the comments. One grandmother writes:

Don't anyone knock todays teenagers. An amazing achievement from a group who have worked their socks off, given up their time and experienced some pretty harsh training to achieve this brilliant result so as to help others who have greater difficulties

Well done to everyone concerned

... and best wishes from Grandpa Codger!

This is a late addition (Friday noon). I've just discovered that the headteacher of the school - who swam himself, what about that! - has just put up an exciting account of the swim. Makes a great read. You can find it here - also photos and videos

Only time for a couple of flower photos this week

You may remember the Ingenious Mr Fairchild from last year
Here he is in second flush

This is patio rose from the Dutch  breeder, Jan Spek
Also in second flush