Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Autumn Equinox

Roses blooming in Boskoop
- planted by our friend Jan

With better planning I could, perhaps, have got this belated edition out on Friday and thus would have marked, to the very day, the autumn equinox - the point at which day and night are of equal length - we have left summer behind and the days gradually shorten

One of the good things about being a gardener - however unskilled - is a deeper appreciation of the change in the seasons and the passing of time. This has been all the more poignant for me in recent weeks and explains why I failed to write a episode, as I had planned, exactly one month ago

If you look back to the previous blog (26 July 2002) you will find a video about the Rosarium in Boskoop, in the Netherlands. Its restoration owes much to our good friend, Jan den Haan. Little did I realise as I wrote those few words that within weeks cancer would claim his life

This is the Dorpskerk - literally, village church - in Boskoop
(However, Boskoop is more than village these days)
A very kind friend offered to stay with Mrs Codger so I could attend the funeral. I'm so very glad that I did. There were 250 mourners present at the Dorpskerk (photo right) and a large proportion also attended the graveside - quietly filing past and placing roses (always roses!) on the coffin. Jan was nurseryman at heart and so obviously respected. We always thought of him as a gentle giant - it was a privilege for me to share with the family at such a special time

No sooner had we returned home - I was away for just three days - and we seemed to immediately enter into mourning for Queen Elizabeth. The two experiences merged into one - possibly because both Her Majesty and a humble Dutchman shared the same Christian hope. I'll try to say more about that before we finish

Sometimes a single picture seems to say it all
A lady in Bakhmut , Ukraine - see report below
Charity fundraising
You might think that our next topic should pick up on a gardening theme. But first, however, I'd like to say a little about the charity side of things. On my return from Holland I felt that the time had come to aggregate the donations that had come in over the summer and to get the money off to our friends in Poland for use in Ukraine - the need remains urgent. I doubt that it is necessary for me to tell you that this remains to be the case -see the photo left, courtesy of BBC (also, read the item below on news sources)

Taking advice from a friend I transferred the money using Wise.com (formerly Transfer Wise). I mention this both in terms of transparency and recommendation. The transaction cost only a few pounds and was seamless - thus £1400 went to Poland (1600 euros at the time, it would be less now!) - and is already being used. [On an earlier occasion it cost me £25 to transfer £1000, using the standard inter-bank system - so I'm impressed with Wise, they seem to be doing a good job. Get in touch if you wish to know more - there could be a further saving]

We are still in business, supplying plants and giving advice.
We have even branched out a bit - here are grasses provided for a
recent project. Watch out for news on a makeover next month
... a little more on the same ...
Hardly had the dust settled on the transfer when I heard from the giving charity that I normally use, Stewardship, that due diligence was complete and that I could open up the giving channel planned back in March. I will certainly do this so please look out next month (October) for details

However, it does raise an issue that I'd like to be open about. As many readers are aware, Garden Codger cares for Mrs Codger. The word 'care' here has both the personal and technical connotation so I have to think about the year ahead and how much time and effort I am able devote to my Codgerly efforts. I'm working on that balance right now and hope to say more in the next episode. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has continued to support this year

Now for a bit of gardening!
Last time I explained how easy it is to produce strawberry plants for nothing. Simply give the runners chance to root. Here is a better shot of a runner with its roots. At the time of writing I was establishing a new strawberrry patch. I was not expecting fruit just yet but I've already had some. The hot summer helped - but remember, strawberries like to be watered

Whilst setting up the bed I sorted my old compost, sieving as I went. The rough stuff I used as a mulch for the strawberries. I could not resist popping in the odd lettuce here and there. I don't have much space so this was a double gain

And a bit of wildlife
Whenever I work around the compost heap a friendly visitor appears. You can see him on the left. This young robin and quite persistent in his attentions. I reward him by disturbing the soil - he immediately checks it over for a snack. I also deliberately spill a bit of fish food by the lond when feeding the fish

The surplus always disappears. I suspect that some of this is consumed by our other friend, Horatio. I almost trod on him the other evening. And I've noticed in the cardboard box I left for him there are some dry leaves - more evidence that he is still around

Our garden is also visited by cats. I think two of them had a dispute a couple of nights ago both leaving their collars and quite a bit of fur. Or, was that an encounter with a fox?
This specimen is about a foot across

More interesting was the insect activity on this sunflower. You may remember my saying that I never sow sunflowers but always end up rearing a small tribe. Rather inconveniently they chose the raspberry bed this year - crowding out newly planted raspberries. But Codger has softened in his old age and tends to let live

This tolerance even extends to turning a blind eye to a few pests. The sunflower head in the photo (dinner-plate size!) is obviously past its best. The bedraggled appearance due, in part, to a thorough infestation of blackfly

Ladybird larvae about their business
The back of the 'plate' was black with aphids. You may know that they are farmed by ants - who seemed to have set up a thriving enterprise. I left them to it (noting, however, that the ants had a long commute to work!). Taking another look at the weekend, I made an interesting discovery

One reason for not agressively attacking pests is frequently their predators get killed, too. A principle of organic gradening is to achieve a balance - this is easier said than done and requires patience (I understate the case). So, imagine my delight when I discovered that a gang of ladybird larvae was munching its way through the herd of blackfly. I immediately gained photographic evidence (see photo left) - their distinctive livery is a matt black set off with vivid orange braid

Incidentally, when checking my identification of the larvae later I was to discover that we have 26 species of ladybirds in the British Isles

These plants are still providing a steady supply of fruit. They only
get the morning sun so I pick them nearly ripe - this encourages
the remaining fruit to ripen. They will go on into October
Some other successes
My main memory of gardening in 2022 will be the amount of watering I've had to do. Most of that was in the nursery area where I have hundreds of pots - the Codger enterprise area, you might say. This is my stock of plants - mainly consisting border perennials. I've just been through them - roughly noting what needs potting-on ahead of winter

I've had many good reports of readers still harvesting tomatoes from plants that we supplied. Once again, I found the the yellow varieties have done well - both in the greenhouse and outside

I've still got a really sturdy vine of Italian plum tomatoes in the greenhouse - showing off a bit in yesterday's sunshine in this photo (left). Although not immediately obvious, I followed the common practice of removing a lot of leaf - this allows more sunlight to fall directly on the fruit and hastens ripening

This was partly inspired to a visit to RHS Bridgewater in August where their vines were made to look positively skinny byzealous leaf removal

Tigella did well - note the stripes
I also got good results from Mamande (a beefsteak type) and from Tigrella. This latter variety was new on me and is shown in the photo (right) - I like to experiment with different varieties (there are hundreds, of course)

You can see the reason for the name - a slightly stripey skin. I shall certainly grow this one again - good flavour and trouble-free. Perhaps the moment to say that I've experienced very little blight this year

I have been somewhat overrun with tiddlers. Several readers have found the same - and used them as the tomato ingredient in spaghetti bolognese - sensible use as size does not matter when making a sauce

Tomatoes apart, the copious sunshine suited many squashes. My little collection has just been shipped off for the harvest display at church

Overall, it was a year when it was hard to fail - provided you kept up with the watering. We come under South Staffs so did not experience a hosepipe ban - even so, I used the watering cans whenever I could

Although our garden is not particularly designed for dry weather, I was surprised how well the main flower border survived the dought

As I say, close planting
A heavy mulch in the Spring played a part in this - and, I suspect, the close planting whereby very little soil is exposed to the sun. I'll put a few flower photos in the gallery section at the end. The dahlias have done well - and, hopefully, will continue to do so until the frosts come. I plan to store the dahlia tubers out of the soil over the winter. Some other plants such as salvias will get protection in the greenhouse

Well, I think we must begin to draw to a close for this month. Just a couple of things - I said that I would include something about information sources on Ukraine - let's deal with that first ...

News sources on Ukraine
There is the constant danger of news fatigue when a situation seems so intractable and threatening. There are so many startling statistics - for example, seven millions people have been displaced internally - quite apart from the millions who have fled abroad

You can click here for Times Radio
The BBC is, perhaps, the most obvious news provider and often my first port of call. They have maintained their coverage well including reports from the front line - such as the case I mentioned near the beginning. You can read it here where Orla Guerin does a feature on a battered Donbas city

Of course, there are many online alternatives to the old Beeb these days. There's Times Radio (see above left) where you'll recognise many familiar former BBC faces such as John Pienaar interviewing retired American generals - among many others

The main way I stay on top of the agenda is by listening to the daily Telegraph podcast - Ukraine: The Latest. Most probably the easiest way of getting this is via YouTube (but no piccies - it's a podcast!). I find this daily update penetrating and informative. It must represent a significant investment on the part of this 
particular news outlet. The team includes Dominic Nicholls; he did did 23 years in the military before entering journalism and is spot on - in fact, the whole team is excellent - they even have a tame historian!

I also wish to give a plug to a news source from within the country - indeed, we need to hear the perspective of Ukrainians that is independent of government. If you click here, you'll go to the current front page of the Kyiv Independent - news, hot off the press, from inside the country

A deeply respectful farewell
I feel I cannot sign off without some reference to our Queen's departure. I was among those who were mesmerised by the deep respect shown by those in what became known as The Queue. The national nerve had been touched - a nerve that, perhaps, many did not know was there

As I mentioned earlier, the fact that the one funeral was so quickly followed by another added to the poignancy. Everything seemed so perfectly done - and in a way that, I suspect, will never be repeated. The Archbishop's funeral sermon was so appropriate in that his words that pointed beyond the Queen and her faith to the One in whom that faith was placed

So many moments could be picked out that it is almost invidious to highlight any. So much splendour but deep simplicity, too. I'm so glad that the Scots chose a psalm sung not by an operatic star but a folk singer - and in Gaelic, too. Here it is:

For those, like me, who do not have the Gaelic - here are the words from Psalm 118 

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.

Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.

I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.


.. best wishes from Garden Codger

PS - I'm hoping that the next edition will be out in four weeks time - that's the plan. Until then a few shots taken during August and September ... ...

Echinacea at RHS Bridgewater - this one is Rubinglow

Back at home - I think this one is Parasol (getting colder now - but I've still got a few available)

The Dutch like them, too. Photo during during a quick look around a huge garden centre

I think this dahlia is spectacular - can't stop photographing it

It looks good in the rain, too

Picked today. Pears ripen off the bough - a delight to anticipate: Doyenne du Comice

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Day 150, and counting ...

Hot here last week - a shot in our garden 
- but even hotter in Ukraine
Actually, it is day 153. That is, 153 days of the unprovoked and unrelenting Russian invasion of Ukraine. I was aiming to get this blog out three days ago but I'm afraid last week's heatwave got the better of me. How was it with you? I monitored the temperature in the garden here - we had 38 degrees for several hours on Tuesday, short of the 40 degree record elsewhere

Exhausting, particularly as the nights were so hot. Temperatures that they are more used to in Ukraine where, sadly, the war wears on. Meanwhile, the political shenanigans here has driven the conflict down the news agenda

Russian Grad rocket launch
Regular readers may remember that we mentioned the grain export issue some months ago (see blog dated 23rd April 2022). That came to the fore with the signing of an agreement last Friday - only to learn the following day (Day 150) that the key port in question, Odessa, was subjected to a missile attack

A few days before, you may have seen the report of an earlier rocket attack on Kharkiv. One newspaper reported the incident thus: 

"The lone father clutched a small book in one hand as he stared forward reciting a prayer. In the other, he held the limp hand of his dead son. Killed while waiting for a bus in Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv, Dmytro, 13, was the latest victim of the constant shelling and missile attacks by Russia. His sister Ksenia, 15, was taken to hospital in a grave condition, local authorities reported. The attack also killed an elderly couple. The teenager’s father spent about two hours by his son’s body at the site of the shelling, reading a prayer." (Daily Telegraph 20th July 2022)

Since reading the words of this report I have stumbled across the Channel 4 News video on YouTube. You can see it below. There's a slight glitch in the sound at a crucial point - please see today's endpiece which clarifies what the reporter was saying - helpfully, I hope (perhaps I should warn viewers that the opening sequence is particularly sad and potentially upsetting - certainly moving)

Committed to help
As you know, all the proceeds from our charity work this year is being directed to Ukraine via our friends in Poland.. They are close to the scene and actively involved in a variety of relief efforts. Frequent trips are being made to the east of Ukraine where the need is greatest

Plants still available
This is an Astilbe
We hear that the recent residential weekend for Ukrainian mothers and children was a great success and that another is planned for the Autumn. Remember to check out out tailpiece - another interesting snippet there

Thanks to everyone who has had plants from Codger's Nursery. So far this season donations amount to £700 (to be exact £707.00) - but there's more to come. Some supporters had reserved their donations intending to give online. I am sorry to report that it now looking as though that route won't be set up in time so I shall collecting those funds in cash. Not what I intended but I'm afraid the issue is outside my control

The good news is that it looks certain that we shall clear £1000 before long

And further good news - we still have plants availble that will do well this season. See this week's photo gallery at the end of the blog. Further donations appreciated!

This Hibiscus came over with or friends in 1991
and still doing well!

News from Holland
Although we don't have time to do the detail it's worth mentioning that we met our Dutch friends in Poland. This was in the 1980s when the Poles were valiantly breaking free from Soviet domination. They were taking relief out to Poland at the same time that we were engaged in the same endeavour

The friendship blossomed in a literal sense - many of plants in our garden came over with them from Holland! Sadly, our good friend, Jan, is no longer in good health. However, despite weekly cancer treatment, he still helps to keep Boskoop blooming. With a group of friends he has completely renovated the excellent Rosarium in the town and the result can now be seen in a video - enjoy!

Loads of gooseberries this year

Success and failure
No two years are the same. This season: gooseberries great - raspberries poor. In the latter case, I'm to blame. I reorganised our soft fruit area and did not plant the fresh stock of raspbery plants early enough. Fortunately, I overwintered some of the old stock so was able to pick a little fruit- but a poor showing, I confess

On the other hand the blackcurrants and chuckleberries have been good. I moved then into a sunnier position and it paid off. Believing that redcurrants can cope with more shade, I demoted them - no redcurrants this year! But the blueberries are doing well. I could go on - it is swings and roundabouts

Blueberries doing well
One surprise. I've managed to transplant a sunflower in bloom. The new raspberry patch suddenly sported four of them. One was stepping of the toes of one of the new raspberry plants. I dug them up as a unit. Replanted the raspberry and moved the sunflower - both patients doing well! (The trick is a good rootball and plenty of water - I generally tend to move plants successfully)

A simple practical tip - essential equipment immediately
to hand in a recycled ice cream container 
My next task is to plant out a new strawberry patch - the present area is hopelessly overcrowded. I'll go through the first step as the next item and then go through the succeeding steps in the next episode which is due out in a couple of weeks (a welcome holiday intervenes)

Whilst I'm on practicalities, a useful tip: I keep a trowel, ball of twine, scissors and pruners in a container that can travel around the garden with me. Speeds things up and means that I lose tools less often - see photo above right

Strawberries for nothing!
Here, I've zoomed in on a growing tip
Returning to the strawberries. They are a species that reproduce very easily. If you wish to introduce children to gardening, you might try this. After fruiting the plants naturally send out shoots known as runners. Their tips root very readily and will happily do so without any intervention. You can simply let this happen and dig up the mini-plants later

However, you can bring some order to the process by persuding them to root in small pots. I find it best to use, what I call, a six-pack (see photo)

Simply fill each compartment with potting compost and insert a growing tip - still attached to the mother plant at this stage. I find it best to secure each one with bent wire - acting like a staple

Here are the strawberry runners being to root in an organised way
Keep an eye on the pack and water as required. After a month or two you can sever the umbilical - just check you have sufficient root first. Leave to establish for a couple of weeks and plant out when you are ready

It's worth making start now. That way you will new plants (for free!) that will bear fruit next season. Like us, old plants become less productive with age!

In memory ...
As we finish this week perhaps I should note that since writing the above paragraphs there has been missile strike on another Ukrainian Black Sea port. We hope against hope that the shipments of grain can go ahead (before the invasion one third of the world's grain exports were from Russia and Ukraine)

Returning to our opening story. Old Codger was intrigued, not to say moved, by the extra detail provided by the Channel 4 account of the incident. It made me wonder if the reporter was able to privately interview woman police officer filmed supporting Dmytro's father

What the Telegraph said was a 'small book' was, in fact a Bible. The 'prayer' - and I'm sure it was such - was a reading from Psalm 91 (the glitch in the video sound wasn't clear at this point). Here are the words being read by the father (vv15-16):

He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation

One last thing - pertinent, I think. As well as humanitarian relief our Polish friends are distributing Ukrainian Bibles - many thousands with 5,000 recently printed for the current emergency. May the Lord strengthen their hands in the task!

... with best wishes from the Garden Codger

Echinacea are a favourite of mine and I have a few available
As you see, they are in flower now. Sometimes called coneflowers

This smaller form also available

I had planned to say that this agapanthus was available
Too late! It went to Mrs Codger's hairdresser this morning
Incidentally, I'm planning to propagate from the red Cana above (see tailpiece)

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Sunshine & showers

Angela doing a good job
- literally front-of-house!
We need both, don't we? Sunshine and showers, that is. At the plant sale on Saturday we even had both at the same time - but not enough rain to deter the punters. Perhaps I should add that as we were clearing up at 3:15 there was a sudden and heavy  downpour - it was a mercy that it did not arrive earlier

The sale sported a great variety of plants and sales were good. (The Codger household is now caked up for a week - the cake stall was groaning with goodies so we felt obliged to relieve the load a little)

As always, it was good to renew aquaintance with friends old and new - and to see so many willing volunteers helping with the event. All very rewarding - receipts totalled over £1,500 - all of that will be passed on to BCM

This is how they come - with a
simple bamboo support structure
The new Grow-Your-Own section met with some success (see next). It was good to talk to folk who had got into the gardening habit as a result of the lockdowns. The sudden imposition of Lockdown 1.0 two years ago seems to have been the catalyst for many - or so I discovered in various conversations

Post-Sale sale!
Fancy growing a cucumber or two? What about a squash - either to eat or for decoration? Perhaps courgettes are your thing - all are easy to grow. Basically, just keep them watered and enjoy the harvest

We have a few that did not sell on Saturday and I need the space so, roll up! Although I say "just keep them watered", I ought to add, in honesty, that the subsequent growth will probably require an extension of the support so you grow up as well as out. And for great results a weekly feed will be well rewarded

Loaded up and ready to go
A special Thank You
A few week's ago I mentioned young Violet who had set up a Platinum Jubilee sale to raise money for Ukraine. Well, I am very pleased to say that she has passed on £37, the amount raised through her imaginative efforts! You can see Violet, and her mom, in the photo below

And some further good news: an anonymous donor has matched Violet's fund raising pound for pound - so, allowing for rounding up, that makes another £75 for Ukraine relief - that will be passed on soon

(We are still waiting for the final details that will mean the giving channel is officially open - please continue to watch this space. We have a backup plan - in the meantime all funds are accounted for. I'll give full financial details in the next episode)
Violet bearing a small reward for her big effort

In the meantime, Thank You, Violet. And also thanks to the many other who have made cash donations - and to those patiently waiting for the details of online payment webpage

Our garden wildlife
It has been a long time since I have written the wildlife in our garden . The unexpected appearance of a new visitor gives me a reason to put that right. It's a tale of flocks of birds, three rats and a hedgehog. 

Starting with birds
We do well for birds - and I think that's for three reasons. First, Codger gardens organically - so harmful chemicals are absent - and insect life thrives. Secondly, we have a pond with a stream - so there's good access to water. Third, through trial and error, I have found what seeds the birds like most

Not much left of the pigeon
Until iIgot the seed mix right I had lots of trouble with piles of discarded wheat being discarded and creating a yukky mess on the ground. To the extent that the pigeons could not devour it all. Slight digression, our pigeons keep the local sparrowhawk fed - you can see the evidence in this photo (left). As you can see, sparrowhawks don't leave much on the plate

I use a humane trap big enough most suspects
The other problem with discarded seed is rats. I thought I had overcome this problem until last week whn we experienced a bird feeding frenzy. This has happened in the past with our sparrows but this time - for a reason I cannot explain - the goldfinches and greenfinches joined in. Within mutues we had piles of seed on the floor beneath the feeders - just like the old days when the wheat in a cheap mix got thrown out

I tried to make Horatio feel at home
A special visitor
I left the feeders empty for a few days whilst the ground feeders cleared up the mess - thank you, pigeons and blackbirds. I should thank the sparrows too - but they were responsible for most of the waste in the first place. Catching a glimpse of movement in the undergrowth, I decided to deploy my squirrel trap and was rewarded the following morning with the sight of a rather disconsolate rat. Over the next nights I caught two more and then, to my surprise, a hedgehog!

Hoping that he (he was 'he', I noticed) might settle in permanently, I fashioned Horatio a cardboard home. However, he stayed the night and then moved on. But, for all I know, he might still be lurking somewhere in the garden. He can leave the premises - following national publicity last year, I a cut a hole in the back fence - so that seems to have worked!

Start with the canes - four and then four more

Sweet pea wigwam
These have proved to be one of Codger's most popular lines so towards the end of May I sowed more seed and I've just around to planting them up. In case it's of interest here's a photo guide to doing the job

Obviously, the number of plants depends on the size of the pot. I usually plant six or eight but start with the bamboo canes. In this case four canes are pushed down to the bottom of the pot and tied at the top. You'll see that there is spare string - this allows me to pull in the next four, giving me eight canes all together

Next, I plant the sweet peas which have been grown from seed in root trainers. This helps develop a good root system - helped by a dose of seaweed feed

Planting and tying-in complete -
just one things more to do -
see next photo!
The plants go between the canes and are tied in as I go - but note two points

First, twirl the anticlockwise around the canes so they spiral upwards. Why anticlockwise? Well, you best ask the plants - that's what they do naturally. Check around the garden - you'll old Codger is right (any readers in Australia or New Zealand please tell me if there's an antipodean difference!)

Second, and this is the hard bit - snip out the growing tip! Think of it as being cruel to be kind - the result is more stems and more flowers. See the photo below

Snip out the growing tip - this will encourage
the plants to produce more stems and blooms
A word about the potting mix. Commercial all-purpose compost is a bit to caggy - lighten it with perlite of grit. I like to include some of my own garden compost. Sweet peas are hungry feeders so I also mix in slow release fertiliser. I use Wilko's own brand that costs about £3.50 - you can pay twice that for posher brands (same formulation as far as I can see)

Place the finished result in a sunny spot. Water regualrly and feed weekly. Thw Wilko tomato feed will be fine (although here I do use a branded product - Mr Fothergill's Seaweed Feed)

The other thing to mention is dead heading. Don't let the spent flowers turn to seed - snip off the pods immediately. This simple discipline will prolong flowering

Codger plans to have three or four of these sweet pea wigwams made up over the next couple of days. They will be looking for a good home so please get in touch - first come, first served. Perhaps I should also say that I've still got a good stock of perennials - now is a good time to see them - many are in flower at the moment (sse the photos at the end)

Slipping down the agenda
As I write this final section for today the news agenda is dominated by the shinanigans at Westminster. By the time you read this we might even have a constitutional crisis as we enter unchartered territory. One concern among many is our support for Ukraine as the war of attrition grinds on and we are tempted to look away

Stop press!
As I typed those words a message flashed up: 
Boris Johnson will resign as prime minister today, the BBC has been told. So no constitutional crisis but I think my point is valid - we could easily lose interest in what is happening in Ukraine. Whatever our preoccupations I do hope that does not happen

One again, thank you to everyone who has donated funds that I am due soon to pass on to our Polish friends as they continue their efforts to help Ukrainians in great need - both those who are in Ukraine and, also, those who have been displaced to Poland

[late addition (Thursday 12 noon) - just received further news from Poland which I'll include in the next edition - lots being done]

... best wishes from the Garden Codger

The view from my upstairs study window -
which I really appreciate

I love this bloom - Ensata - Japanese Water Iris
It has just come into flower

Mrs Codger at work, here

As I mention above, there are many plants in flower at this time