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 give.net - 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
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
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!
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!