Tuesday 31 August 2021

And more fruit

First fruits from Discovery - our first apple tree
I think a theme will emerge in today's blog - a mixed story of various successes and failures. Gardening is such a reflection of the whole of life - and constantly there are lessons when we stop to think

These lovely looking apples are the very first fruits of a young tree that I planted at the very beginning of the first lockdown eighteen months ago. The variety is Discovery. Well-named as the first discovery I made it that it did not wish to be trained espalier fashion. I suspect that I was conned by the grower who must have known that the stock was intended for something more compact

As the apples were two weeks ago (mid-August)
Obviously, I should have picked them then
I reported earlier in the year that I had moved it from its original position and replanted it in a pot whilst I scratched my head a bit. To my surprise, it took off in the pot.  Five lovely apples, all clustered very close to the main stem. Sadly, I left them to ripen too long - two started to rot off from the inside inside

In gardening, as in life, we live and learn. So, I now know that I have a patio apple that ripens early - I'll live with that - and count my blessings whilst enjoying the fruit

Food for thought

In fact, there has been much to think about whilst gardening in the past couple of weeks. As the events have unfolded in Afghanistan my thoughts have frequently turned to prayer for the thousands of people caught up in the awful tragedy there

As regular readers know, the Codger project raises funds for the Birmingham City Mission (see next). Quite separate from this we also support the Barnabas Fund - a Christian aid agency that has a good record of helping on the ground in Afghanistan. If you would like to know about their current emergency rescue work please click here - Codger heartily commends the international relief they provide and the explanatory video that you'll see on their page

Tipton's hidden treasure - a reader's bijou garden that includes plants from Codger's Nursery

A timely Thank You!

This is a convenient point to thank everyone who has continued to encourage what we have been doing locally in support of BCM. Every single penny we raise is directed to BCM which continues its excellent work in the City

A reader's query:
did you really supply me with a courgette plant?
Many supporters have sent in photos of their produce and of their gardens that incorporate plants that we have been glad to supply. We appreciate your support and the donations made online. You can see the result here

As you may know, we also handle cash donations. These I transfer to the fund every few weeks. I have made such a payment today and I am very glad to say that we have met the target we had set. Since the beginning of the pandemic that figure amounts £4,000

[Incidentally - and this is particularly for newer readers - we use a charity giving website mainly for reasons of public accountability. It also means that Gift Aid can be claimed bringing the real total to £4,337.89 - this figure includes cash donations that amount to £1891.00 ]

Tomatoes: mixed fortunes

Returning to our theme of success and failure. We are enjoying a continuous supply of tomatoes (see today's photo gallery at the end). Does this count as a success? Well, most varieties are doing okay - both in the greenhouse and outside. I'm getting a lot of small fruit so am keeping my eye on those varieties that are a bit bigger
You can read more about the growing method
in two June blogs - 19th and 25th

I am particularly pleased with Golden Sunrise - a medium-sized yellow tomato that I've got growing against an outside wall in a framed growbag (see blogs for 19th and 25th June). They get sun (when it decides to appear!) for only half the day so I have cut back the leaves to encourage ripening. A number of readers have been in touch about tis point. There seems to be a lot of green growth this year so I recommend taking this step 

As a side-point, I grew these vines up twine rather than canes. All was well until the twine rotted where it met the soil - so I retrofitted two bamboo canes just in time to avoid a major collapse

A bit more sunshine would be in order. We are getting such varying reports of what to expect. I prefer to trust the Meteorological Office via the BBC rather than the tabloids - you can check the weather for September by clicking here

Early signs
Less happy

Take a look at this photo (left). It was taken five days ago - it shows the one disease tomato growers dread most: blight! At least, that it what I suspected. To my horror my suspicions proved to be correct. When I checked again a couple of days ago, most of those plants growing nearby were also showing signs of the stems turning brown

Drastic action was called and the slain plants committed to the green bin. I have checked again today and find that the few plants I left seem also to be going the same way. I think it was two years ago now that Monty Don's crop was completely wiped out. It happens to even the best. Sadly, celebrity is no protection!

Secateurs getting the treatment
Stopping the spread

All the plants affected so far are growing outside. So, my main aim is to keep the greenhouse safe - that's where the biggest disaster could occur. As far as I know, there is no cure for blight

When visiting David Austin Roses I've seen the gardeners cleaning their secateurs with methylated spirits so I hunted around my shelves. Unless the bottle is hiding I must have used it. Coming across some old Jeyes Fluid (potent stuff - is it still allowed?) I deployed that to sterilise my secateurs

Obviously, I also need to avoid hand transmission but I read that blight is airborne so we cannot be sure that my elementary hygiene will prevent the spread

It occurs to Codger that blight could be problem this year since ripening is late. If you want to get more info and what more can be done then click here for advice from the Gardeners World website


Now a slightly happier tale. Normally, we do not get many plums. I blame the pigeons. In the Spring they roost in the pear tree where, as far as I can tell, they peck away at the fresh flower buds. For a reason best known to them the lower branches are less affected so, this year, a good picking is on offer - quite soon, I think

And old Codger is ready! I shop at the local M&S Food Hall about once a month. And there, before my eyes, just what I need - see the photo below. Plum crumble will soon be on the menu

[Incidentally, a free tip. My local enquiries have evinced a useful bit of information. M&S do their yellow labelling first thing - immediately before they open at 8:00am. That is worth knowing - if you get there early, you'll get the best bargains (trophies, my mother called them)]

A more unusual fruit

Earlier this year I was listening to Gardeners Question Time (BBC Radio 4) when there was some reference to cape gooseberries. Bob Flowerdew's comments piqued my interest so I bought a packet of seed to give them a try

Very easy to grow. I now have a couple of plants just inside the greenhouse. The fruits grow very conveniently inside their own packaging. They have their own taste - a hint of vanilla, I'd say. Another way of adding interest and flavour to the garden

I included the spoon in the photograph (left) simply to give the scale. The fruits are small but perhaps they will come bigger next year

I also have some potted cape gooseberries growing outside. They are rather like Chinese lanterns. Anyway, a couple are available if anyone is interested - as are other perennials which can be planted out now. As we have mentioned before, local readers are welcome to take a look at what plants we have in stock

Bird feeder problem - solved?

We enjoy watching birds on the birdfeeder but there's a problem with the seed discarded by the birds. This problem was worse when we used cheap seed - soon the pile of wheat grew and started sprouting

We now use the dearer 'no-grow' seed that has been kibbled but this is not entirely problem free. A gooey mess can still build beneath the feeders. So, we are having another shot at keeping the area smart and, hopefully, clean. I have assembled a collection of potted plants. As you can see in this picture the result is reasonably attractive

Second flush

Before we finish, a point on the positive side. Our main flower border would, I think, come into the 'mixed border' category - perhaps very mixed border would be a better designation

Our border with the current second flush of roses
Some gardening books advise against including roses. I understand why - they are more disease-prone when crowded by other plants. In our case, this has been a rule to be broken. And, at this period of late summer, we get the compensation: a second flush of roses

It is a truly mixed planting. You may spot the self-sown sunflowers in the background. Always a lovely surprise when, late season, they appear

If you take a look at the gallery below you'll see a few of the roses. And, also an interesting imposter - please let me know if you recognise it!

Today's crop from the greenhouse
Tomatoes finale

Well, we are almost done for today. It has been good to hear from readers in the last week or so - quite a few queries about tomatoes. Just to reiterate and elaborate some advice:

  • Pick the fruit as they near ripening and finish off in the dish. This will bring on the others
  • Cut away leaves to reveal the fruit - they need sunlight to ripen
  • Reduce growth overall so you concentrate the plant on ripening. This includes topping the plant and removing trusses that don't stand a chance of ripening this season
  • Keep an eye open for blight and exercise plant hygiene
I also get asked about recipes for green tomatoes. We are afraid that Codger is the last person in the world to ask. He once tried a production run of green tomato chutney, carefully following the instructions. The first sign of trouble was the metal tops to the preserving jars beginning to corrode. Do you know that green tomato chutney can double up as paint stripper?

Best wishes from the Garden Codger!

Probably our oldest regular reader - Vera is 90 years young today!

We thought the sweet peas had packed their bags - so, a nice surprise

Dahlias have a fascination of their own at this time of year

I rather like this shot of Gertrude Jekyll

The second flush of Gertrude Jekyll en masse

Finally, the imposter - found growing among tomato seedlings
Codger's best guess is Red Veined Sorrel
But it loves the stream - not what the books say!

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Feeling generous?

Colourful pots that are available - see Filling the Gaps, below

Today's opening shot shows pots on our patio at home. However, this blog comes to you from a cold and rather less colourful Buxton. A pity since it can be lovely, here

It's a brief visit following a week or more of downtime. Nothing to do with pandemic and even ping-demic, rather some other nefarious bug that has doing the rounds and chose to lay old Codger low. However, the break in our usual routine presents something of an opportunity. So, unashamed, we wish to promote a charity venture that deserves support wider than that of the families immediately involved

Channel swim for Mencap

Training on Ullswater
Despite the miserable weather here yesterday, the sun shone on Ullswater where our older granddaughter had travelled north to taking part in a training exercise. She is a keen member of a relay team planning to swim the English Channel in just a few weeks time. A big challenge for a fifteen year-old

The intense training programme has lasted a whole year. Obviously, endurance is the main focus but many other aspects have needed attention as well. The practice in Ullswater was designed to provide experience of getting in and out of a boat in the dark, somewhat essential for relay swimmers at night! We have discovered that relay swimming is wonderfully well organised - and extremely demanding. On top the obvious endurance training and associated fitness regime are all sorts of other considerations - like dealing with jelly fish as well as the severe thermal challenges - the video below was taken in February!

I think a grandfather can be forgiven for a touch of pride and using this blog to promote the charity aspect - all donations are going to Mencap, the mental health charity. You can find out more in this video ...

And, should you feel inclined to donate, then simply click here!

[Since writing these lines about the Ullswater trip, Katie Ann did has done a night swim at Salford Quays and is off to Colwyn Bay today - these kids show real commitment - three training trips in three days!]

The main flower border at its best three weeks ago

Filling the gaps

Back to gardening! Before leaving home, I was pondering the gaps in our flower border. Such gaps appear as the high summer flowering period comes to an end. This this year seems more gappy than usual. You may be in the same situation so here are some suggestions of ways we might help:

1) Drop in a dahlia. Dahlias are cheery plants and so versatile. Codger's nursery has a fair selection that are potted up and ready to go. You have the choice of planting out (easily done) or simply dropping the pot in place (very easily done)

Zinnias are great for colour
You'll have almost instant flower and, provided you remember to deadhead, a succession of blooms until the frosts come in the autumn

2) Plonk a pot of instant colour. We have petunias already potted up ready for you to take away. Instant colour! Also very colourful French marigolds and zinnias, which are always good value

3) Impress with geraniums. We have some really good quality geraniums planted up in both large pots and troughs. These can look particularly good at the front of the border

4) Or, distract with a hanging basket. Only a few left so you'll need to be quick with this one

A small selection of the many perennials available
5) Alternatively, start next year early! You may have already decided on improvements you want to make. Planting perennials now means that they will establish strong root systems giving you a better display next year. Why not have a look at what we have got? We shall be back home in the next 24 hours so please feel free to book a visit

Planning a border

In fact, this present period of late summer, is a good time to plan border improvements. I recently stumbled upon an excellent video that is full of really helpful design tips from a professional gardener. He sets out beautifully clear design principles that even old Codger could follow

The video takes the form of an interview between the Middle-Sized Garden lady (Alexandra - sorry, surname escapes me) and the head gardener, Tom Brown, at West Dean Gardens in Sussex. Very thoroughly recommended! [late edit: I've just noticed that a mis-read is possible - it is the garden that is Middle-Sized not the lady!]

Dazzling dahlias

The same lady has also given space to a Danish gardener, Claus Dalby. Perhaps readers will be thinking I should get out more but I shall risk recommending three videos in one blog (if we include the Mencap video). Mr Dalby grows his magnificent dahlias in pots and they look great. He is also very helpful in suggesting effective companion planting. Take a look and I think you will be impressed

Weeds and other green material added
Composting: Hot tips (part 3)

From the sublime to the ridiculous? Here's the third tip in my short series on composting: give the heap an occasional treat! By which I mean, add stable manure. I'm told that there are more horses living in urban areas these days than in the countryside - surprised? So, there's some manure near you! Hunt around and you are likely to find a supply - look for a pile of black bags by the gate

Topped of with the contents of a black bag!
My source dried up when a large stables changed hands. However, a keen reader has found an alternative - right under the M5/M6 link. So, the next time you drive north onto the M6 from the M5, look out and look down - I could be below grabbing a few bags 100 feet below the carriageway!

Now a word of warning. When you open the bag don't be surprised if you get little more than wood shavings. Remember, the you are getting the result of 'mucking out'. So, it's best to get two or three bags and blend the result

Think of yourself rather like those people whose job it is to blend tea or coffee. Experience will educate you!

As you can see, the bigger yield is on the right
The experiment I forgot

Very much earlier in the year I mentioned an experiment in growing potatoes - Pink Fir Apple, in fact

I was interested to see if the type of container made any difference. So, I planted three of these salad potatoes in a large plastic pot

And then I put three, of a similar size, in a felt growing bag (seen the photo below). I was careful to use the same compost mix to cover both sets

Back in early February
From time to time, I added more compost - just a mixture of whatever came to hand. I'm afraid that being in a corner of the garden by the compost heap they were rather neglected - and left rather too long

Just the other day I noticed the tops dying back and thought I ought to take a look. The photo (above) shows the result. Those on the left were grown in the plastic pot. The better yield, on the right, were the potatoes grown in the felt growing bag

I know very little about these bags but I suspect that they are sometimes used by local cannabis growers. I reclaimed my bag from a local walkway where the results of such a growing enterprise had been dumped. That's Codger recycling again - and to good effect in this particular case

Telling a bee from a fly

About the same time in February, I published a photo of what I thought was a bee. Regular reader, Rachel White, helpfully corrected me - the photo showed a bee-like fly

I was pleased to be put right and am now in a position to better inform myself. The book shown was purchased at a branch of The Works (in Buxton, actually, just this week). I mention it in case anyone else would like to get a copy - as you can see, it costs £6 at the discounted price. The book is by Jean Vernon. It is an easy and fascinating read - it also has some excellent photographs

Did you know that in the UK there are:
- 276 species of bee
- 7,700 species of wasp
- 7,000 species of fly (including 280 hoverfly

A plant straight out of a 9cm pot
And how you you tell the difference between a bee and a fly? Well, among the differences look at the eyes and the wings. Bees have eyes at the side of the head rather than the front - and - they have four wings rather than two

Pots and potting

Thanks to those good folk who have given me pots - Codger is grateful although he never seems to have enough of certain sizes

Be that as it may, I've recently discovered a useful fact about square pots having experimented a bit with different sizes

See what I mean? - an easy-to-fill triangle
You may have bought a small plant in a 9cm square pot - it seems pretty standard in the trade. The next size up is 11cm - sometimes known as a one litre pot - for obvious reasons. Now here is the useful bit. When potting on from 9cm to 11cm, turn the plant 45 degrees. You then have four easy-to-fill triangles at the corners. Try it and you'll see what I mean

Well, that's all for today folks. We have travelled far and wide. But don't forget the Mencap appeal - it's a good cause and certainly worth encouraging the youngsters undertaking the challenge of the Channel swim - here's the link again ... ... HERE!

... best wishes from the Garden Codger

Plus a few photos ....

I get asked about dealing with slugs - here's the answer!

It's hibiscus time 

Squash doing well

The other week I mentioned purple-podded beans - look how they turn green in the pan!
Great flavour - we shall grow this variety again next year

Tuesday 3 August 2021


First picking was 3.5kg, second about the same. And lots ore to come!

Let me say straightaway that I do not claim to be a great expert on growing fruit. (Regular readers will know that I do not pretend to be a great expert on anything - but am happy to pass on my experience, both successes and failures - that was something of a theme last week)

However, in my experience gooseberries always do well and are worth considering if you have not yet tried growing fruit. I used to have both green and red varieties but have settled on the Japanese red Hinnonmaki. Here is what one true expert says:

Hinnonmaki Red ... gooseberry lacks an AGM but is our favourite. It produces large red berries, and lots of them, which are sweet enough to be eaten raw - really delicious. This is a strong grower which has good resistance to disease. We recommend this one without hesitation and it thrives even in cooler areas (full article here)

Raspberries are a good option if you have a corner
that gets some sun. Codger's favourite fruit!

Is there a downside? Well, the thorns are sharp - very sharp! On the other hand, a big plus point is that they do not need full sun all day - and, also, they will do well in a container. As I type this, I have just realised that my bush is about 25 years old. It somehow seems to self-regenerate as the roots spread. You can control the thing by pruning and this can also make the fruit easier to pick. To be honest, mine gets very little attention and keeps on producing loads of lovely sweet fruit every summer

We have several blueberry plants available right now,
including a large potted plans ready to harvest
Berries of different sorts

Of course, raspberries are a safer option as far as thorns are concerned. In fact, raspberries are my favourite fruit although ours did not perform quite so well this year due to poor pruning (my fault). Summer fruiting varieties are best cut back as soon as they have finished fruiting, whereas late fruiting varieties (such as Autumn Bliss) are best done in February. rather than wander around the topic, let me list the plants potted up in the nursery here and looking for a good home ...

Plants available right now

A winning combination that takes some beating
We have plants available (supply your own cream!)
I have a few soft fruit plants available right now. If anyone is interested get in touch. Here is a quick list:

  • Raspberries - several varieties
  • Strawberries - Malling variety - good cropping with medium to large fruit
  • Blueberries - several plants including one large, with plenty of fruit, almost ripe
  • Blackberry - a good cultivar that is thornless
  • Rhubarb - (not a berry, I know) - a good flavoured old variety 
A view of part of the stock of plants
Perennial reminder

We also have quite a range of strong and healthy perennial plants that could be slotted into your border right now. Far too many to list - but please feel free to come and expect the stock. Some - like echinacea, achillea and aquilegia - we have in multiples as they look better planted in threes (or fives)

An indelible impression

Do you find labelling a chore? Codger does - but tries hard to stick to a plant labelling discipline. Hence, we get frustrated when the writing fades and we get in an mix because of mistaken identity

I cannot be alone in this and have tried various solutions. The main issue is finding a pen that produces an indelible result. The ubiquitous Sharpie looks good when fresh but, I find, the writing only lasts about six months. So, an experiment ... 
Obviously, density varies - but that is not the issue

The photo on the right is self-explanatory - there are three pens under test. In addition to the Sharpie already mentioned, we have the Amazon Basics equivalent and a third contender which is labelled OWIM Gmbh & Co. This was bought from Lidl under the Home Office brand. Codger will be reporting back in due course

Talking of experiments

A corner of the bed showing impressive results
Yes, it's no-dig time again! First a photo of the Birmingham vegetable bed. This is the result after only two weeks. Looks good to me and the owner is pleased

The second, more local, trial was more of a challenge. Setting up the bed coincided with the torrential rain we had two or three weeks ago. We noticed how the water formed large puddles and failed to drain away

We persuaded the owner to do a trial within a trial - do half the bed no-dig (the cardboard had been in place for a couple of weeks) and to dig the other half

This is the dug half - note how wet the grass is
The photograph shows the left hand no-dig half. You can see the conditions were rather muddy but we pressed on and planted up both sides - dig and no-dig. We planted flowering perennials rather than vegetables - the owner's preference

Doing the dig, by both mattock and spade, revealed what I suspected - thick clay, as you can see from this shot that I took at the time. Nothing less than the local speciality known in Tipton as 'tacky dirt' - and for good reason

The dreaded Tipton 'tacky dirt'
So far the plants have been growing reasonably well but one specific problem: slug damage. I don't think one dahlia has survived. The damage looks worse on the no-dig side which makes me wonder if the wet and rotting cardboard creates something of a slug heaven with dahlias as the icing of the cake! (Sorry for the mixed metaphor but editing time has evaporated)

The plot is still work in progress and some replanting is planned. We shall see in time if one half does better than the other

[Perhaps I should add a background note. Tipton was once riddled with marl holes where the clay was dug out for brickmaking. When we moved in to our present property I spent a couple of years working on the drainage. That's another story but it's worth saying that subsequent experience has proven the effort to be well worthwhile]

A nice touch
Both sides of adjoining houses being planted up

Regular readers may remember that we had begun our efforts with the small garden at the front of our friend's house. The wielding of the mighty mattock attracted the attention of their immediate neighbour. As a result we got booked to do a front garden facelift

The photo shows the work in process. The neighbour's cousins were drafted in to do the heavy lifting - well, the planting actually. They were two delightful young ladies who proved to be excellent learners!

Discovery - first year of fruiting
Apples and pears

Perhaps I should have said something about apples and pears whilst on about fruit, above. I'm cautious about this as I know that many readers only have a small patch. But more may be possible than you think. The apple shown here is Discovery. This is the first year of fruiting. There are four such apples. The tree is growing in a pot and seems very happy with what was originally intended as a temporary home

Pear before haircut
Another way of growing apples and pears in a small space is to train the plant against a wall or fence, as in this case. Take a look at these two pictures. Two things to note: this year the pear has gone crazy putting on masses of green vegetative growth and, consequently (?), hardly any fruit to be seen

Of course, the summer growth always happens - it is in a tree's nature to grow! So, pruning is necessary. To show the difference, I've done a before and after shot, as you can see

After pruning. Note huge reduction in top growth
Growing espalier-fashion takes a bit of work but it is interesting work - and, usually, you get to eat the literal fruit of your labours. Although it ought to be mentioned, that you often get biennial cropping - that is, a lean year followed by a fat year

Incidentally, the growth on the right of the pictures is our main grapevine - a black Boskoop variety. That has also gone a bit mad this year and is being hacked back on a daily basis - done, in part, so the grapes see some sunlight. I suppose that this also counts as pruning!
A great way to recycle junk mail and cardboard food packaging

Composting: hot tip (2)

Following on from last week, here is my second tip to get your compost heap working: add shredded paper. This is all to do with balancing the nitrogen / carbon mix in the heap. This is often referred to as the green / brown mix that your unseen friends - the aerobic bacteria - need to thrive

Although a scientific approach is possible, I find that getting this balance is something of an art. Since it is easy to find green material - like when you mow the lawn - getting enough brown (carbon) is the issue. Here's my method ...

Japanese water iris - see below
When enough green material has accumulated to add to the heap, I first turn the top few inches to get a feel for the state of the heap. I then usually add a few inches of shredded paper before heaping on chopped material - weeds, prunings and so forth. This will be mainly green sappy stuff so I like to finish off with some more shredded paper to help keep the balance about right. The shredded paper top layer also acts as a useful insulator, helping to build the internal temperature of the heap

Identification catch-up

In the previous two editions I ran what amounts to a quiz - so it's time for some answers. The amazing bloom (shown above) is Iris Ensata - a Japanese water iris. Sadly, the bloom does not last long and, this year, only one plant flowered - I guess, because I split them last year. I find that tends to happen when propagating irises

And then there was a Monarda. Here is a younger version - photo right. I've no need to show the honeysuckle again - that was an easy one

Achillea Cerise Queen - plenty in stock
The previous week showed the David Austin rose, Celebration, below which was a lovely achillea. 
These are a great asset to the flower border as you can see here (left). And this gives me a chance to plug again my offer of perennial plants - we have a good stock of these plants

Also looking back to that edition (10th July), you have Moses in the Bulrushes and the startling electric blue of Eryngium. Also the Ligularia which we described last week 

A comment!

It does not worry Codger at all (in fact, he is rather relieved) but his blog only rarely gets a comment (only seven in total!). The 10th July post was an exception. Seven dwarves indeed! If you look back and click on comments, you'll work out the connection. Now, this raises a question: which one? The choice is: Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, or Dopey

Thanks for reading. Answers on a postcard to ... ... the old Garden Codger

PS. And to show there are no hard feelings - here are a few shots taken in the last couple of days: