Friday 19 February 2021

Winter colour

Hellebores - great for winter colour
Yes, hellebores again! But for good reason. Despite the sub-zero temperatures last week, they have bounced back. This photo (left) was taken today but look how they were a week ago (below). It is quite remarkable how some plants can accommodate low temperatures. It is as though they go into hibernation. I did wonder if they would recover and deliberately photographed so a comparison was possible

Of course, a great advantage of these winter flowering plants is that they provide a source of nectar for the insects brave enough to hunt around in the winter

Hellebores hit by the sharp frost - but
they recovered completely - see top left!

More winter flowering plants

If you look back a few issues, you find some information about cyclamen. Not wishing to repeat everthing here, the big point to note is that there are several types and not all will cope with frost. In particular, the cyclamen ususally sold at Christmas (persicum) does not like frost. In contrast cyclamen hederafolium (ivy leaf) withstands frost well as I observed only last week - this type are autumn flowering

There are cyclamen and cyclamen - know the type!
For winter flowering you need cyclamen coum. I find these absolutely charming. The phograph below shows some in our porch - those outside are equally healthy - they seem to flower right through the winter very happily

Snowdrops represent another option. They take care of themselves and will gradually spread given half a chance. I think they like woodland conditions so mine are planted in a shady corner

Snowdrops are an easy win

Another easy option - also a bulb - is iris recticlata. Those shown here (below) are in one of my Spring bulb planters - they flowered happily away right through all the ice and snow last week. In fact, they are the first of the Spring bulbs to make a showing

Plenty of other bulbs are sprouting but these tiny bright blue babes have come out first. As you see the blooms are remarkably similar to the better known Siberian Iris but these stems are very much shorter 

Some nice surprises

A good number of readers have reported that their planters are doing well. As to be expected, those given the greatest protection are first to flower

A Codger planter sets sail

One has even set sail as as you can see here (right) - thanks to Sue CD. Incidentally, other regular readers may remember that I had great trouble sourcing suitable containers in November when I was busy planting up ready for the Spring

Well, although Spring has not yet sprung the planters have.  Whilst doing the weekly shop at Asda this morning I spied new stock. Good value, I thought - two Venetian planters for £3! The set of four pots also cost £3 - not bad - well done, Asda

In Asda now - other supermarkets available
Another nice surprise happened on Tuesday - this was at the at the dentist's (yes, at the dentist!). The receptionist reminded me of the tomato plant she had from me last summer. Apparently, it yielded a bumper crop, so I received my first order for the 2021 season! She was  insistent that she has the same variety again - Cerise, I seem to remember

Time to sow

Marmande - French beefsteak variety
I've only just started sowing seeds, being slightly behind with jobs - an emergency repair has kept me busy. Obviously, I need to sow some Cerise but there will be other tomato varieties on offer. Among them more sweet cherry varieties - I was very impressed with the Sungold I tried last year, although I have noticed that the seeds are on the pricey side

I've had a request for Marmande - a large beefsteak renowned for their flavour. (Thanks, Ray - good suggestion.) I look forward to trying these plus a number of other varieties. One great reason for grow-your-own is, of course, flavour

Almost ready for sowing in the greenhouse
The imperfect gardener

As I start sowing, I'll report in these pages so you know what is coming along - both fruit and flowers. Actually, Codger is slightly diverted as he had decided to reorganise his soft fruit area - that needs to be done before the Spring and the plants move into growth. For example, I only discovered by accident last summer that redcurrants and blackcurrants require different conditions. The latter need far more sun than the former. I did not know that

Correctly identified:
a hoverfly - look at the eyes
In fact, there is a very great deal that Codger does not know. I was reminded of this when I heard a passing comment on the radio the other day (strangely, on a Radio 3 music programme): 'the great thing about gardening in the winter is that nothing has yet gone wrong". Exactly so!

It is always good to hear from readers - please don't hesitate to correct me if I slip up. I'm indebted to Rachel White for pointing out an incorrect wildlife identification. The insect shown last week was not a bee but a hoverfly. Helpfully, she explains that you can tell from the eyes - if they look like those of a fly then that's what you have got - a fly, not a bee! Thanks, Rachel!

Speaking of imperfections, I have noticed a big drawback with growing lettuce in the greenhouse over the winter: greenfly. They have both shelter and food - not good! Would hoverflies be the answer, I wonder

Plastic re-use

Regular readers will know that I have tried to reduce my use of plastic in the garden. This is surprisingly problematic as, being largely weather-proof, plastic is ideal for many of the things that we do. To illustrate the point: last season I tried out plants labels made of wood - nearly all have rotted over the winter

I shall, again, be trying out paper pots (papier mache) when potting on but, overall, I think the answer lies more in the re-use of plastics. If you look at seed-sowing photo above you may recognise the seed trays: they are standard B&Q issue when you buy plug plants

Green seed tray to the right being re-used
Black cell tray to the left being re-used
Both stood in a standard seed try for comparison
The propagator they stand in is, in fact, the base of a rabbit hutch that would have otherwise been thrown away

So, we continue to do our best and remain on the lookout for good ideas

Incidentally, the green trays are smaller than a standard seed tray and therefore a nice size for windowsill propagation

Starting with these, I tend to pot on into the black cell trays shown here. Again, these are salvaged rather than thrown away. (You may have heard that, very often, black plastic does not get recycled, daft though that seems.)

BCM Sleepout

Well, there is plenty to do by way of propagation but I want to finish this week by telling you about another great BCM initiative. Better still, I'll let the guy in charge tell you about it. Please invest 80 seconds of your time listening to Wes Erpen:

[if the BCM video does not show please click here]

That's just a week away. If you would like to invest a few pounds as well as 80 seconds you might consider backing the father and son team
here - the dad is the one with the beard

I hope to be with you again in about ten days time - aiming to publish an update on the seed sowing on Tuesday the beginning of March ...

... best wishes for now from the Garden Codger 

Incidentally, I think our best bit of winter colour is from the Witch Hazel

And, although it is unheated, we have had some colour in the conservatory

Abutilon to the left

Pelargonium below 

Monday 8 February 2021

Plans for 2021

A special welcome if you are a new new reader! 

Old Codger was pleased to be asked to write a few lines for the latest BCM Update. Perhaps you have arrived here because of what you read in that short piece

Today's post is something of a follow-up to explain what we have been up to and what's in mind as we move into Spring 2021

We often start with a flower photo and this edition is no exception. Our Witch Hazel burst into full bloom less than a week ago and adds a bit of cheer to an otherwise bleak border. I'll say a bit more about winter colour in due course but first, especially for newcomers, here is a bit more about ourselves and how we got going

Beautiful Spring and sudden Lockdown

Perhaps 23 March 2020 is etched in your memory as the beginning of Lockdown. Reading the signs, Mrs Codger and I went a week early on the sixteenth so I got to thinking about the stock of plants I had over-wintered and thinking how they might be used (see here for the original intention). A couple of factors came into the consideration as we contemplated the forthcoming Lockdown: the lovely weather and the total closure of garden centres. Codger also pondered the likely drop in charitable giving in consequence of the likely hit to the economy - how might this affect BCM?

Things came together remarkably quickly. A number of friends had already decided to spend newly-found time in the garden and wanted to improve their planting - and were pleased to discover that BCM could benefit (see next item). I found that a box of plants plus a bit of advice on planting and aftercare was well received - Garden Codger was in business!


So, in very short order, we were growing plants, running a blog and handling donations - I had decided from the outset that this would be a charitable enterprise. BCM has a link with the Stewardship organisation so I plumped for their donation service. So I set up a blog and linked it to - you'll find it by clicking here

The main reason for going down this route was accountability but I discovered a downside - it could look as if wanted to go Big which was certainly not the case. So alongside the online giving we found it necessary to stress that small cash donations were perfectly acceptable. Perhaps this is where we need to say that we take no expenses whatsoever - every penny raised goes to BCM

Plans for 2021

Before stating our intentions, an observation or two. First, we are in a changing situation - hopefully lockdown restrictions will ease soon. And then, unlike last year, garden centres are open - in any case, Codger does not wish to discourage anyone from using the normal channels. In fact, we often indicate where good products and offers are available

And, hopefully, employees will be returning to work and will have less spare time than was the case a year ago. So, like everyone else, we wait to see how how things pan out. We expect that the most common request will again be for a box of plants to improve the border or brighten the patio. We have over-wintered stock in place plus we are about to start this year's sowings. We also plan to provide ready made up containers and hanging baskets

We very much hope that we can again encourage tomato growing. Plants will be available and ready-to-grow pots made up so all you do is water, feed and pick! The same with squashes. Lots of children and grandchildren enjoyed doing this as a family activity in 2020. Strawberry growing is also suited to this approach

We are just about to start seed sowing. In fact, the next episode will tell you what is coming along. Many folk have discovered the benefits of getting out in the garden - and we want to encourage that

Wildlife and more

Codger gardens organically. Past episodes will tell you about this - look back over old posts if you would like to know more. One benefit is that we see wildlife even here in the heart of the Black Country. Creatures both great and small - from a gnat to an elephant! Well, not quite but take a look at this bee. Yes, it's true that there are fewer around but we still see plenty

Then there's our heron or, rather, herons - I'm sure there's more than one. My cherished ambition is to get a good photo but that has not yet happened. Our avian visitors are tremendously alert. They are up and away before I can get a decent shot, as you can see here

Learn from the snow

It's too cold to be out there today but keep an eye open for a chink in the weather. If we get the snow that's half threatened you can learn from it - especially when it begins to thaw. You'll be able to tell the warm spots and the colder areas of your garden. Every urban garden has something of a microclimate - observation now will repay later in the season

When you get the chance it is worth doing some tidying jobs - especially clearing away dead and dying foliage. I was surprised to find how well the strawberry plants were doing - in fact, some of the potted plants need potting on already. But I only discovered this by removing the old leaves. (Keep an eye open for over-wintering slugs and snails - see photo!)

Speaking of potting, you might wish to try growing potatoes in a container. Put a layer of compost material in the bottom, place three tubers (more than this will be too many) and cover. Keep in a sheltered corner. When shoots appear, add more compost and repeat over the next couple of months until you reach the top. An eay way to get an early crop - worth a try

Hellebores again

I gave hellebores a mention in the previous post - good for winter colour. I referred to recent varieties which have a more upright habit. The buyers at B&Q must have been reading. I found a load there a couple of days ago - those on the clearance trolley were attracting a bevy of bees. There were varieties I had not seen before - ballardiae (on the web at £27!) and ericsmithii (keep it in the family) - at £6.00 clearance price - not bad! The photo left shows the more traditional form and the one below the more upright display (plus this morning's snow)

Incidentally, new readers my be wondering how Codger sources his plants. Several ways: obviously from seed and my own cuttings but also commercially. I look out for plug-plant offers - there are many online sellers. From time to time I give reliable suppliers a mention in these pages. I also use the big retailers like B&Q and Homebase - but mainly with an eye to clearance and rescue

Buying tips

Despite the arrival of Storm Darcy, the retailers are busy stocking up for the Spring so a few buying tips might be in order. I have just mentioned B&Q: I don't know if our branch is typical but the clearance trolley is always worth checking - my first point of call, in fact. I don't usually use Wilko for plants but their garden products are very well priced - especially pots and containers - they have a good selection, too. If you have access to The Range, they are worth checking all round. They have a sensibly priced line in seeds from Holland labelled De Ree - only 49p per packet

Saving a bob or two

Yes, we keep an eye on the pennies. Before Christmas we mentioned a neat tip if you have a potted chrysanthemum. Rather than throw it out after flowering you can often get five plants from one. How come? Because the growers put five plants in the pot! Tease them apart, taking care to preserve the individual roots as much as you can. Then pot up the individual plants - spare 9cm pots will do fine for this

Do not worry that they die down over the winter, that's natural. Just keep the compost damp - but not wet. Give a bit of protection from frost and you should find you have new plants for nothing in the Spring!

Weather warning!

I have just heard from our friends in Holland - heavy snow, there. Here in the Midlands, we seem to be on the edge - but checking the forecast I see that it is our turn tomorrow. Don't forget the tip about hot spots and cold spots - can be useful knowledge later in the year. However, sunshine promised for Wednesday - so it may be possible to do a bit of tidying and cutting back - all grist for the compost bin

If you are a new reader, you might try looking back at past issues - you may find something to interest and even entertain. Look out next week - I plan to publish again on or before Friday 18th February. Please feel free to get in touch. My email is fairly obvious but I don't state it explicitly to avoid the inevitable robotic spamming - just think gardencodger and remember gmail (and you know about dot com!).

Best wishes for now ...

... from the old Garden Codger

Here are a few photos that did not make the final cut. (Please excuse the lack of captions on the photos today - some technical probs and no time to sort)

First, the heron - not a good shot - as I indicate above my visitors are camera shy ...

I think he/she may have been after the frogs - also well disguised. In case you are wondering - my fish are hiding underneath the bread crate - you can make out the pattern

And a reminder, when doing your clearing and tidying, take the opportunity to deal with this form of wildlife. These were hiding in the rockery - over 20 when I counted ...

But don't leave your tools outside!