Saturday 29 May 2021

Sumer is icumen in

Original score courtesy of British Library

Sumer is icumen in! So, you have Codger's permission to 'sing cuckoo' or as the original has it: cucco - a rather more sensible spelling

The birds are singing and the sun is shining and gardening resumes - or, even, commences as the case may be with you

So, I wish to begin with a series of offers that may be of interest as we get back out in the garden

First, and a s a reminder, we still have plenty of the Cerise bush tomato plants that are so very easy to grow. Three options: a) a plant to pop in the ground - any sunny space will do

b) Cerise in a nice pot that could go on a sunny patio or the like

c) three Cerise in a trough with cane support - a complete growing system

Cerise was popular with readers last year and gave great results - we expect the same again this. Sweet bite-size cherry tomatoes - as with our new offer which comes next ...

Tumbling Tom planted in hanging basket
New offer: Tumbling Tom

We are pleased to add another easy-to-grow bush variety: Tumbling Tom. As the name suggests, this is a variety where the fruit trail, or tumble, down. Thus is is very suitable for hanging baskets - an added feature if you are trying to interest your children or great grandchildren in growing

I have just a few which are supplied already planted, singly, in a suitable hanging basket. I can also supply as a threesome in a larger basket. They are raring to go so please let me know if you would like one - or three!

Offer number three: Gardeners Delight

This remains the gardening nation's favourite, or so I am told. It is very reliable and is widely grown as an outside variety of the more traditional sort. By traditional, I refer to the way the tomato is grown - not as a bush but as a vine climbing up a support

The fruit are a medium size - bigger than the cherry type but certainly not large. Gardeners Delight fruits readily and, providing you handle it right, has a long season. The easiest way to grow it is up a bamboo cane, tying in as it climbs. You have to 'pinch-out' - an easily-learned technique shown a thousand times over on YouTube

I shall be doing an experiment with my own Gardeners Delight as I've read that it can be grown as a bush with no pinching-out. Watch this space!

And an extra: Sakura

I had intended sticking at three but I wish to add Sakura for a particular reason. It is reputed to be the earliest cherry tomato that has high disease resistance. All of mine are already sprouting flower trusses so I'm offering this week, rather than delaying further. Ready to plant now and grow away quickly

Sakura is the type that you need to grow up a support as a vine or cordon, to use the proper gardening term, so what I have just said about Gardeners Delight applies

Tomato edition

Today's blog has been tomatoes four times over. I've got a really good stock because germination was so good way back in March. Last week, keen to get on with the growing, I left an asterisk hanging. I meant it to anchor the quotation about sowing generously and reaping generously

It is, of course, from the Bible where in 2 Corinthians 9:6 the natural phenomenon is applied to the spiritual. Well, since making that quote I am glad to say that we have had generous donations both online and in cash. You can see the current picture by clicking here. By the time you read this I hope to have added in the latest cash donations. We might even hit £3000 by close of play - I must get on!

Buying advice

Before I finish, please let me pass on some shopping intelligence - the spies are on the job! It's a good time to be buying pots - especially the larger type of planters and troughs. There are really good offers at Morrisons, Wilko and B&M. I suspect that prices will be going up when present stocks run out. (There is a distinct upward trend in the building trade - just one indicator)

Wilko have tomato feed at just £6 for 2.5 litres - that's great as tomato feed will do as your standard feed for virtually any plant. And, hot off the press, B&Q are knocking 20% off outdoor plants this Bank Holiday weekend

Angela's sale alert

More about this is due course: the date for Angela Webb's charity plant sale is Saturday 10th July, 11:00 to 3:00pm. Don't miss it. Codger will be there - but don't let that put you off!

In the meantime: grow tomatoes! (And get the plants from old Codger - seven varieties still to come!)

The sun has perked things up this week so a few photos follow

All for now - best wishes from Garden Codger

(wondering about Black Hamburg? Tune in next week!)

Our weigela looking great ...

Percy Wiseman at its best

The famed Miller's Crimson

Our favourite iris: Jane Phillips

Saturday 22 May 2021

Gardening for the Intrepid!

Rhododendron: Percy Wiseman
We need to tell ourselves that we shall see the sun again! And, just as a reminder, here is our favourite rhododendron, Percy Wiseman. It flowers for such a short time - but how very lovely it is

Old Codger was up bright and early on the one good sunrise we had this week and got this shot. And there's a bit of nostalgia attached - my father was named Percy. (And my mother was Gladys. Known in the family as our Glad and or Perc - sort of places them, doesn't it?)

One compensation has been the clouds - some lovely skies at times
I'm rewriting what I had prepared for today's blog - I had planned a full-on tomato edition but such weather! The garden is sodden and enough to deter the most intrepid stalwart. Perhaps, like me, you watch Monty Don get a soaking in last night's Gardener's World. I guess, when the crew arrives and you're booked to film - you have to film! However, good value. See further TV comments below

Petunias, violas and so forth have been moved into the potting shed
Tomato bonanza
That is, tomato plant bonanza - we have not yet reached the fruiting stage

The old truth comes to mind: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously*. We experienced, what seemed to be 100% germination, spread across no less than eight varieties. This means that readers will have plenty of choice when we come to June and time to plant out. The tomatoes have boomed to the extent that other stuff has had to be moved out of the greenhouse. More about the flowering annuals in a few weeks. Let's get some sunshine first

Cerise - a cherry tomato, already potted up
Cherry tomatoes:
the easy way
But it is possible to get going right now by growing cherry tomatoes the easy way. We are deliberately promoting a lovely sweet cherry variety: Cerise. We've already had repeat orders from last year and the plants are ready to go!

 Cerise is a bush variety. This means you plant it, water it, feed it and pick the fruit! Masses of sweet bite-size tomatoes right through the summer. All tomatoes need sunshine, so you must choose a sunny spot. No techniques like 'pinching out' are needed

A threesome with support built in
Codger can make life easier for you by supplying the plant in a good container with strong bamboo support. Last year, many folk got good results this way. But you will also get a good harvest by planting in the border - even in among the flowers. Just make sure it gets the sun

Incidentally, we also have a few Tumbling Tom. These are similar but with more of a trailing habit. These can be grown in a hanging basket if that's what you want, so this gets yet another option

However you want them - Cerise or Tumbling Tom - just let me know. Time to get growing!

Informative TV
Having mentioned Monty in the introduction, I would also like to put in a word for Carol Klein. In ebullient mode, she has often appeared alongside Monty but now has her very own programme on Channel 5. Although I have watched only a couple of times, I was well impressed by her very clear instructional approach. Less pizazz but more perspicuity, you might say

Sorry, not a good photo - but it's the real thing: Bittercress
Interestingly, I learned something about the most common weed in Codger's garden: Bittercress. It is edible! I did not know that and checking this out on the web, I find that it is full of natural goodness. And, yes, it tastes okay - quite peppery, a bit like rocket

Among the many other gardening programmes on offer, I would also pick out Beechgrove Garden from Scotland. Mind you, they have a rather broad view of Scotland - it now takes in Chris Beardshaw in the Cotswolds. Perhaps they have takeover rather than independence in mind

Sweet Peas, potted up, ready to go
Sweet Peas and hanging baskets
As well as having cherry tomatoes ready to go out we also have a few sweet peas that I pot up wigwam fashion as in the photo. They are mixed colours in a rather nice pot - probably only a couple left, perhaps three by the time you read this

I've loads of petunias desperate for some sunshine. They look great in a hanging basket. I've been looking at ways of bringing the cost down. Good quality basket-type containers don't come cheap. I think I've made some progress and will report next time

Petunias grateful for a bit of sunshine

I've got a couple ready to go and will be planting up more with trailing geraniums, as an alternative. They should look fantastic in full flower

Thank you
Perhaps this is the point to mention that our fundraising page has been given a new look by the charity organisation, Stewardship, that runs the service. You can see the result by clicking here. We are truly grateful to those who have donated this past week

Receipts always given for cash donations
A recent donor reports that the process was an easy one, so please do not hesitate to use this means of making a donation. You will see that I have raised our target to £4000 - an increase of £1500 which represents the figure we would like to raise this year. I shall keep this under review - really, I'd like to hit £5000. We shall see ... We don't often speak pound notes so one final financial point, particularly with tomatoes in mind. Cash donations are absolutely acceptable and are more sensible when handing over a fiver for a few tomato plants. And, above all else: it's in a very good cause 

For more on the great work ofBCM please click here 

(if you would like too read two fascinating real-life stories, click on: I Once Was Lost and Precious Child)

Time to go ...
Well, yet again, I'm out of time - so must sign out now. But we'll be back soon encouraging you to get out into the garden - and, hopefully, to grow some tomatoes. More on that topic next week

I'll add a few quick photos below

Best wishes for the old Garden Codger

The gripping grapevine
We refer to Black Hamburg, of course. I'll provide an update next week. For now, I just want see if the photo that mysteriously disappeared from our previous edition makes it in this. Here it is ...

Do you see the little chap (probably chapess) on guard defending the new growth against all-comers?

Fantastic foliage
Often taken for granted, this foliage (below) belongs to the shade-loving epicedium

And, below that, sadly, the last of the camellia blooms. Mrs codger collects up the best and displays them indoors

Friday 14 May 2021

Open for business

Our camellias have been lovely this year...
... always sad when the flowers fall
After the seemingly long night of lockdown, how good to be able to welcome visitors back to the garden and to, what has become, Codger's Nursery

By 'Nursery' I mean what used to be my veg patch - a series of raised beds at the back of the garden, tucked way behind a trellis screen. Plus the greenhouse, plus the potting shed, plus the new plastic greenhouse, plus ...

Oh! dear - it seems to be taking over! But that's no bad thing if we continue to raise funds for BCM. So Codger is very thankful to those who have called in this week - it was great to see you. Everyone seems to have gone away happy with a selection plants from which they can derive enjoyment

Petunias building their strength in a hanging basket ...
... ready for a long season of flowering
Feel free to call in!
Checking through the new receipt book the list of plants includes: several peonies, hellebores, a blueberry, a whole tray of geraniums, a couple of hanging baskets with petunias, sweet peas in containers, etc, etc

Plus some tomatoes - yes, these are now on the move. In fact, they deserve their own blog edition so please look out next week. Lots of folk have been in touch to ask when they will be ready

Lettuces growing under essential protection

As soon as I have finished today's edition I'll be busy potting up and potting on. They will be ready soon - with a wider selection of varieties than last week, so you may wish to try something new. As I say, more information in just a few days ...

A bit of veg
I have not forsaken vegetables altogether, as you can see from the lettuces in the photo (right). The micromesh protection is essential as the sparrows will reduce a row of lettuce to their roots in a trice. I proved this with a little experiment last week when I transplanted some lettuce thinnings in open ground

A female sparrowhawk keeping an eye on things
They often take smaller pigeons - which helps me out
(Photo courtesy of Wiki - Eurasian Sparrowhawk entry)
As I approached, there was a guilty flutter as two dozen culprits fled the spot, leaving virtually no trace of the plants

 Pigeons can also be a nuisance. They take an unhealthy interest in our plum tree, picking away at the blossom. We get little fruit so I suspect that they eat the emerging buds

But having birds around has benefits (dealing with insect pests) so we continue to encourage them and love to see them on our feeder. And they, in turn, keep our local sparrow hawk in business

How it works
Speaking of business: the main message in this episode is simply: we are open for business and warmly welcome visitors

Because of my caring responsibilities, I have rather less time than last year so cannot so easily do my wheelbarrow deliveries (!) so prefer you to collect

Sweet peas planted up and ready for collection
To answer an obvious question: how does Garden Codger work? Apart from a few donated plants (always welcome!) we mainly acquire stock by growing our own. Most simply this is done by growing from seed - or other methods of propagation such as cutting and division. Very little expense is involved - and, obviously, the labour comes free as this is my hobby

However, we do buy some stock - mainly through online offers. Judging by the number of promotional email offers I receive, I reckon that planning horticultural sales is, by its nature, highly speculative. I get very attractive plug plant offers several times a week. Mind you, they are very good at upselling, if I have used the correct marketing term

Growing away in the greenhouse on a dull day (just now!)
I also do plant rescues - usually from the big DIY stores. This means that we pick up well established plants for half price - often because some employee slipped up with the watering. And then there are occasions when simple over-supply means a glut needs to be shifted. This was very much the case last autumn and fuelled our Spring bulb offer. I reckon that our £400 come in this way that went to BCM Toylink

We opened the bag and found this 'stick' inside
Well, time presses and I must get into the greenhouse so those tomatoes are ready to go out next week. However, I must tell you a bit more about Black Hamburg - the story I started last week ...

The story so far ...
Episode 1: Dutch friends visit the Dutch Garden at Hampton Court Palace many years ago - and are impressed by the Great Vine - the biggest grape vine in the world, producing 600lbs of grapes each year! 

Five-star treatment - my standard: seaweed
Episode 2: Mr and Mrs Codger visit Packwood House near B'ham and see a scion of the Hampton Court Black Hamburg grapevine - send phot to Dutch friends

Episode 3: Dutch friends plan a surprise: purchase a Black Hamburg and post it to Codger but day after day passes and it does not arrive. Has its fate been sealed by Brexit?

Episode 4: Three weeks to the day, jiffy bag arrives with bareroot 'stick' inside. After 21 days is there life in this stick?

Episode 5: (this is a long-running drama made under lockdown conditions) Codger gives the poor plant five star treatment

Roots being soaked prior to planting
Episode 6: The buds shows signs of life. This is somewhat amazing to old Codger. The plant had survived in a jiffy bag - presumably in British Customs - with only a a bit of damp kitchen towel to keep it alive!

[... to be continued - more photos below]

Which goes to show that these shrewd Dutch deserve their reputation as great growers (our good friend, Jan, was for many years an expert nurseryman). Incidentally, I looked around the plant section of our local branch of the The Range, yesterday. A huge wagon had just made a delivery - every pallet I looked at carried a Dutch label - straight from the nursery in Holland to the branch in England. They grow well - and thrive

Well, time to do a bit of lunch - then out in the greenhouse with those tomatoes. So, it's ...

... best wishes from your old friend, the Garden Codger

Plus a few photos to brighten a dull day

[edited 16th May - readers have pointed out the two Black Hamburg photos have mysteriously 'disappeared' - sorry about that - very strange - will solve if I can but sometimes Google wins! Actually, with me, Google always wins]

This was the new vine a week ago

It's now a little greener but, there's no doubt, there's life in that 'stick'

Checking today I see that the tiny leaves are turning green

However, I'm using this week-old shot as it shows the we have a little friend taking care of the young plant

Look closely, perhaps you can it clinging on to the bottom of the top shoot

I've blown up that part of the image - see below. In reality, the little critter is about a millimetre across

Tomatoes a-plenty in the greenhouse

The potting shed has been drafted in to cope with the overflow

Broad beans doing well now that the frosts seem to be done

Plus a few other plants - no space goes to waste

And a favourite corner of mine - the little woodland margin under the cherry tree
Mainly lungwort (pulmonaria) plus a primrose

Saturday 1 May 2021

May Day

View from the pond back towards the house
Codger cannot let another day go past without putting metaphorical pen to imaginary paper. This blog post is long overdue; circumstances have conspired to keep me doing other things. However, May Day rain has driven me in from the garden (see photo left) so we are seizing the chance to update our readers

Actually, that is not quite correct. It is more that I have been driven in from the greenhouse ratherha tn the garden itself. Every square inch is taken, there's hardly room to stand. Despite the low outside temperatures, germination has been good - particularly the tomatoes. Old Codger reckons he has got through 400 litres of bought compost. Result: we have goot some good healthy plants looking for a new home - we hope there will be something to interest you

Full to overflowing greenhouse
- and soon to be available
Compost quality
By bought compost I mean the stuff you buy in bags from the DIY store, supermarket or garden centre - as opposed to the material generated by rotting down green and brown waste on your own compost heap. As regular readers know, I usually refer to this latter product as garden compost

Bought compost is often sold as multi-purpose compost - seed-sowing and potting being key uses. I try not to be obsessive about this but I continue to be surprised at how variable these products are

Under the first lockdown, it was difficult getting hold of multi-purpose compost. I bought whatever I could, wherever I could and found, to my surprise, that paying more did not always get better quality - judging by results, that is

The product we are currently using
(note we have no pecuniary interest)
Experience and a reminder
 Last month, seeing an offer at Homebase, Codger thought he would try their compost. As with most stores, they carry a range. I'm talking about the product seen here on the left. Verdict? I've found it very good!

It is not perfect, you will encounter some lumpiness. I can live with that. I found it light but not too fluffy and a pleasure to use - somewhat like the professional product (Bulrush) that gets promoted on the gardening sales channels like QVC. I shall certainly stick with the Homebase product for the moment

Now, a reminder from grumpy old Codger. Using the material straight out of the bag is OK when sowing large seed like runner beans but needs lightening for most seed-sowing. Add vermiculate or perlite - I've swapped to the latter because it is cheaper. Main point: most bought compost does not drain freely and needs improving

Getting a good mix
So, for example, here is my rough recipe when potting on. Only rough - I vary as the case demands: two parts bought compost, one part perlite and one part sieved garden compost (perlite improves drainage, garden compost adds goodness). For seed sowing, the latter addition is not needed

To glove or not to glove
Handling compost raises an issue: gloves or no gloves? Last week's GQT (Gardeners' Question Time on BBC Radio 4) raised this question. Here is Codger's carefully crafted answer (skip to next item if not interested)

Found in the bought compost!
By and large, I go gloveless - moreso as the season develops. It takes a while for winter softness to toughen up so I'm careful at first. I know when my hands are run in - my phone no longer recognises my fingerprint!

The one time I tend to wear gloves is when sieving. Gloves allow me to push the material (eg bought compost!) through the grid

Incidentally, I usually only bother with the sieve if I am preparing a seed mix for sowing fine seeds such as violas or petunias. If you don't enjoy handling the soil there is a cheap alternative to gardening gloves - PPE! Yes, disposable gloves - box of 100 costs only £4 at B&Q! (But go for a size bigger than you think - I don't have big hands but find anything below XL too small)

Another reason to be careful
There are examples I prefer not to advertise!

To be honest, I used to be a bit too nonchalant about tough hands. But a new consideration has come into play which has made me think a bit more deeply about the matter

A change in our family circumstances means that I am busy in the kitchen three times a day, so food hygiene is now a consideration. Mind you, I could wear gloves for food prep - but the idea does not appeal

And another tip: when you wash your hands, keep the water and use it on the garden. Better on the border, though - prevents any chemical build-up with containers

Time for some flowers
The April weather has been well out of the normal range. I imagine the cold wind has kept many folk indoors but, worse than the cold, the contsat wind has been a drying wind. Here, the hose has been deployed a couple of times a week. Added to this rainfall has been minimal. I heard on the forecast that we have only had one tenth of the normal level

We were also informed that the night frost has been the worst for 60 years. Even when the temperature has stayed above zero that has been by the barest margin. My digital thermometer showed 0.5 last night and 0.3 the night before and we are to expect more of the same tonight

The cherry blossom is prolific
Gladly, some plants are triggered more by daylength than warmth so we have a grand display from the cherry at the moment. Best ever, I'd say. And the camellias have been great, despite a bit of frost damage. I have been particularly pleased by the Dog-tooth violets (see above left). For once I seem to be ahead of the trend - Monty Don was singing their praises in last night's Gardeners' World

[Excuse me - I have just discovered that a parcel has been left in the porch. I need to investigate. A mystery has been solved - see the postscript]

Healthy strawberry plants
Open for business
Since the relaxation of Covid rules a couple of weeks ago, it has been possible to receive visitors at Codger's Nursery. Sorry, no cream teas yet! But you can have rhubarb without custard, strawberries without cream and, even, fish without chips

Yes, I know I have mentioned it before but rhubarb is terribly under-rated and we have some excellent plants available. And, unashamed, I'm pushing hellebores again. Is your garden lacking winter colour? - here's the answer! I've also got one, just one, mahonia looking for a home. It's a good variety - Winter Sun

A lovely double hellebore
 - others also available
Despite the cool conditions, perennials of various sorts are waking up, too. Rudbeckia, anyone - or echinacea? You are welcome to take a look. Book first and beat the crowds! 

What about the fish without chips? Only half joking. The heron seems to have had his fill so we are somewhat overstocked so free fish are available. First come, first served

 And advance notice. Unlike last year, we have a large quantity of bedding plants coming on - petunias, violas, zinnias, dahlias, calibrachoa and plenty more

We allow visitors to feed the fish, including the shark
Business matters
Just a reminder. Every penny received goes to BCM for the excellent work they do. I have only just discovered that my online giving channel has made some changes so I need to study them and report back next time (no time to do it today)

In any case, many supporters prefer cash - and I have a new receipt book ready to go. Looking at last year's figures, nearly half the donations were in cash. So, cash is welcome. (Some donors report finding the online method a bit cumbersome so we will take a look to see if that has been made more smooth)

At a location in Shropshire
Secret walk
When restrictions were eased a couple of weeks ago, Mrs Codger asked if we could do our secret walk - the first time in many months. Not exactly secret, but we don't spread the word too widely. It's about half-an-hour's drive away. We sneak into Shropshire and follow a track by the side of a wood. On this occasion The sun came out just as we started and the temperature suddenly lifted - idyllic, as you can see here

It seems that the County has some sort of access scheme as, to our surprise, the landowner had extended the walk. We followed the track. It took us through a magical boggy woodland area

I've never seen such tall alders - and the marsh marigolds sparkled in the dappled light. It felt as though lockdown had finally come to an end

Well, our time has run out. I shall do my best to update you soon about the many plants that are busy growing away. Many would do well in your garden. I certainly won't have room for them all so I do hope that I am growing plants that you can enjoy in your own garden

See you soon ...

... from your old friend, the Garden Codger

Post Script: Brexit harmony stored!
A couple of months ago, our Dutch friends enquired about a grape vine we had seen at Packwood House. I trawled back and found a photo - here it is:

They had seen the original vine at Hampton Court during one of their early visits to the UK

Then, to our surprise, three weeks ago, they mentioned that a package was on its way to us. There was no connection in my mind with the Hamburg photo, nor the vine. What could they be sending?

Subsequently, there were several concerned calls - has the parcel arrived yet? Eventually, they confessed the truth - the package contained a Black Hamburg vine! 

(Here, I should mention that Jan was originally a nurseryman - and one who could track down such a rarity.) So, several visits to our local sorting office. A chat with our postman (who is a very nice lady) - all to no avail. Then, today, a delivery - three weeks in the post! Had the contents survived?

I carefully cut open the envelope ...

... to be continued ...