Friday, 30 April 2010

Rain means weeds reign

Fantastic to feel the rain when it came yesterday as everything was so parched I was afraid to do anything to the soil. It is still dry but if it carries on raining at today's rate everything will be well watered very soon and I'll be hoping for it all to stop. Of course the disadvantage with the rain is that suddenly everything gets growing, not only the plants I want. As an incurable optimist I had once again completely forgotten about our worst weed here. Not docks, nor creeping buttercup or field thistles or hemlock relatives though we have all of those in great abundance, not even the bittercress that is now so widely distributed it ensures it will never disappear, not even the dreaded couch grass which is invading certain areas again, along with ground elder. It is small and very pretty in flower, but ideally you should never see it in flower as it seeds even more readily than bittercress. My most hated weed here is corn spurrey. It is not native to this area but I've an uneasy feeling that I must now be spreading it far and wide, though luckily my field and gardens are surrounded by pastureland rather than arable so the soil doesn't get disturbed to allow corn spurrey seed to settle. 

At this time of year you suddenly notice a green haze appearing everywhere in the field on the ground. It looks as though someone has come along and maliciously sown fast growing grass seed on every naked patch of soil. It chokes out other annual seeds because it seems to grow from germination to setting seed in about 30 days, adapted to be a very unfair competitor. And it is everywhere, even in areas where I managed to keep it out last year. It costs me a fortune every year in weeding and in strangulation of seeds so that virtually the only way to sow annuals here is in modules first. I hoped that liming the soil would help because it likes slightly acid soil. I thought mushroom compost would help for the same reason. And then I think I thought forgetting about it would do the job. But no, the time is right for its re-colonisation of every space and the only way we'll keep on top of it is to wait until it is a few inches high and weed out every blessed bit by hand.  Not ideal.

So where did this clever (and very pretty when it flowers with a cushion of small white flowerheads) invader spring from? From the Organic company (formerly HDRA). When I bought the field I determined to convert it to organic status and began by following the appropriate routes to improve the soil. I sowed four different batches of green manure, including phacelia which I sowed in two separate blocks. And under the phacelia appeared this soft frothy duvet of little white flowers on dark green slightly twining sticky stems. I had never seen it before so didn't worry unduly. I should have done. Corn spurrey must have been hiding in the phacelia seed, so small it got through the processes I suppose, and it hitched a ride here where it loved the slightly acid soil and has been with me ever since, and  I'm guessing that it will always be here. I just hope I do not infect half of Herefordshire....

The other thing about weeds, any weeds, is their astonishing ability to hide here. Why is it that iris and pinks particularly attract couch grass which is so hard to distinguish and detach from young growth, buttercups have a thing for delphiniums, speedwell for veronicas, plantains for stocks, docks for persicaria and so on. I did have a few moments looking at the possibility of despair today when I looked over the expanding acres and wondered Why? as well as How? It does look a bit of a job right now!

Especially when I am doing markets and fairs for the next three days then have a huge wedding next weekend so will be at least three days preparing for that by which time the triffids may have moved into different areas of the gardens, and I probably won't notice until it's all far far too late!

On the positive side, apart from the amazing tulips, we now have lovely camassia as well as the first splurge of scillas, Solomon's seal, spurges, sweet brunneras, the first alliums and a lovely range of different foliages so things are definitely picking up.

And on an amusing note, I had a photographer here from The Independent earlier this week, charming young guy who, it turned out, had never taken a photograph of flowers in his life but his main specialism was as a fashion photographer - he definitely got a rough deal here with this grubby madwoman with hair that (according to friends who came round last evening) is currently indistinguishable from the spaniels' ears. Anyway he did what he thought he had to do, and I hope I stopped him from taking photos of the unpicked finished tulips because he particularly liked the structure of their decay and thought it would make a good photo (it might, but not ideal to promote the cut flower business!), and he left with a big bouquet of vivid flaming tulips. He kindly emailed me later to thank me for my hospitality (chocolate brownies as usual) and for the bouquet. He wrote "... thank you for the bouquet of daffs, they really make my kitchen sing. " My tulip obsession obviously passed him by!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

and more...

tulips and more tulips

I now know why people become fanatical about tulips. The more types you grow the more you et to know them. But I don't think I'll go for the orange ones again! Lots more coming...

Friday, 23 April 2010

New Gardening Hero

I'm not a great tv watcher so was so thrilled to turn on the box to the new series called landscape man to discover a programme about Keith and Ros Wiley's new garden. I missed a talk by Keith a couple of weeks ago (probably too busy weeding or something) so it was a double treat to find the programme. Wow. If I think I am an obsessive I have not even got onto the nursery slopes yet. He has taken a four acre field and is turning it into something monumental, amazing vision, amazing structures, completely fabulous planting. I have a larger field and I feel totally insignificant as though I am playing about in the inner reaches of suburbia in comparison - not that I am anywhere near the nursery slopes of comparison either. The man is extraordinary, though I did so relate to his exhausted comments how he wished he'd done it about 15 years earlier (I guess we're about the same age) and the very rare times he was drooping with tiredness and could hardly focus. But gosh what energy and what talent.  In the next few years I hope my cutting field will be transformed into the mature hedged garden of huge colourful varied  borders with great sweeps of colour from largely perennial plantings beyond, but now I think I'm beginning to dream of doing something else with the adjoining three acres where at the moment sheep may safely graze. 

My husband was worried when he saw my obvious enthusiasm for the Wiley project. He was a little alarmed when he returned from a working trip three summers ago to find I had dug a large pond nearly 7 feet deep at the top of the hill (but now he rather likes it) and may be running scared.......luckily he knows I just don't have the energy for an extra side to what is already an all consuming project!

But if you didn't catch the programme find some time to check it out on iplayer. The man is a genius. 

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


I had a lovely day today in the sunshine with Anna Pavord who came up to check us out for the Independent and was very gracious about the obsessive gardening that goes on here..... I'm suddenly panicking.....

Monday, 19 April 2010

no planes needed!

Sunshine, more sunshine, and tulips galore..... We're now suddenly in tulip- frenzy, very voluptuous flaming purissima this week's favourites, but we're moving into double scented ones, very odd parrot ones that look more like orchids, pretty whites...... dark purples are budding up, but no sign of the viridifloras flowering yet although if the sun keeps shining it will be any day.

We have the Independent coming over on Wednesday to take a look, it would be great to say all will be organised and tidy but no, it is a work in progress here, not helped by the fact I blew up my trusty old rotovator (I now need to find an enthusiast to restore it) so hired one on Friday, it was rubbish so I got them to swap it for another, it wouldn't cope, so I have another one about to arrive for today.

Meanwhile, no planes, no imported flowers. Hooray.

If only the web guys had finally got the ordering system done properly (it has taken several months not to get sorted though I'm sure lots of things have been vastly improved) customers could order just tulips if they wanted, great mixed bunches of 30 different stems as an option to a mixed bunch.... maybe it will happen today!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

backs to the land

Sorry I haven't been on the blog for ages, first there was nothing to report now there's too much to do! What fantastic weather has arrived this week, and with it finally the chance to get onto the land and get things moving on. Flowers are still slow, but they are all appearing this week, the first of the bulk tulips are opening, and it looks as though hundreds of others will be open in the next day or two (possibly by now, it's 7am and I haven't been outside yet, too busy listening to the Farming Today programme (again) which today was on the cut flower industry. It made me feel rather insignificant). I'm hoping to get some seedlings out of the tunnel and into the ground in the next week, and am still dividing and shifting perennials, including a lovely dark red leaved and dark stemmed lobelia with very pale if slightly insignificant wands of pinkish brown flowers, starting flowering in May. Or at least I think it's a lobelia but I don't know what form and despite looking it up lots of times haven't found it - I believe I got a few seedlings from a garden sale three years ago and lost any label immediately, hopeless...

We have got some sweet peas in outside, and those inside are shooting on, otherwise the only annuals outdoors so far are cornflowers, next to go should be dills, lonas, statice, ammis, bupleurum, scabiouses (scabii?) and I've sown the first outdoor seeds direct in the far patch but as I refuse to water anything outside at this time of year they may or may not cope with the regime and the rabbits. Pyrethrum plugs outside are surviving at the far end so far despite the rabbits, but they have taken the tops and more out of all the physalis and are obsessed with digging up large astrantias in the hedged patch, where I'm obsessed with digging up alchemillas which are getting wonderfully large - when we came here there wasn't a single alchemilla plant in the cottage garden, or anywhere, that has all changed as I love it, for me clumps of the plant are one of those symbols of a more established garden. I love it against catmint but I seem to have lost most of that in the field this winter which is an unwelcome surprise. I don't really  understand why I've lost some things and not others - in the top sunny cottage garden I've lost a beautiful large prostrate rosemary, at the bottom of the north facing sloping field garden we've kept all the tiny new rosemary cuttings. The dahlia corms I didn't want to keep I left in the cold field, the good ones I moved indoors. I've lost all the indoors ones, some frost got in and they've gone. The ones in the field all seem to be there. I've even still got a couple of gaura plants in the cold field. I think the secret must be mulch.

I have once again been weighing up the costs of full of rabbit fencing against the losses, but as it has been such a long winter and late late flower production extra expenses will I think have to wait - but I may change my mind in a few weeks when damage will become more obvious as young plants try to get going.

Meg spent hours yesterday digging up and shifting glads as they're moving home - we never got round to lifting the corms at the appropriate time last year so the harvest wasn't brilliant as they were too busy multiplying to put much energy into flowering. Steve got stuck in with the strimmer - horrible job but the orchard had got into such a mess by the end of alst year as wet weather meant we could never get onto it at the right times. And I spent too long trying to sort out computer and admin stuff, very frustrating on a glorious afternoon! Only to get things more sorted with the web guys, come home and find the website isn't functioning since we moved it onto another server. Some days I really hate hate hate techie stuff, but I'm sure they'll have it sorted imminently, they have the talent and the patience, I just have the frustration.....

We're starting at Cardiff Riverside market on Sundays from this week, hopefully weekly but at least whenever possible, then there's a busy schedule coming up, including the big Plant Fair at Hergest Court on May Bank Holiday M0nday (3rd May) which I'm looking forward to, even though we are doing markets the two previous days. But the main panic is that we have the Independent coming in ten days time and there seems little to see apart from bare mud in loots of places, though the cottage garden is beginning to look rather lovely. 

Anyway, things are moving along, but basically we are also still weeding. This will once again be our catchphrase I suspect.