Tour around the garden in late June

I have really enjoyed getting to grips with the garden this year.   Having given up our day jobs we now have much more time to work on the projects we have been thinking about for some time.

There is still a great deal to do (a garden is always evolving and changing) but I thought it would be nice to capture the end of June by offering a virtual garden tour.  I have spent many happy hours simply wandering around smelling the roses and admiring the colour combinations that appear.

The tour takes you around the garden at the back of the house, down the old rose garden to the vegetable garden and then into the orchard.  We then walk through the small woodland copse into the top of the new flower garden (now in its second year).  Look out here for the garden visitor that was caught on camera.

After a look around the new flower garden we move back towards the house to admire the magnificant climbing roses, the circular garden near the house and then finally the garden and views to the front.

I warn you now this is not intended to be a glossy video that hides all the ‘sub-optimal’ bits of the garden!  My intention is to capture the essence at a moment in time and love the way that the video picks out all the bird song.  Hope you enjoy the tour.

(You can either watch the video through the embedded video below on this page or click here to view it on YouTube itself.)

 

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Soil blockers – reflections on using them for a season

I have to admit we are sometimes tempted by the odd gadget or two and last year at the Flowers from the Farm conference in Birmingham we were tempted to buy some ‘Soil blockers’.

One of the reasons for purchasing these was an ambition to try and reduce the amount of plastic, particularly plastic pots, we use for propagation. The ‘Soil Blockers’ allow you to create individual blocks of compost which you can sow your seeds into directly.

The Ladbrooke ‘Soil Blockers’ we bought come in three sizes; a ¾ inch mini block, a 2 inch medium block and a 4 inch large block. One very interesting feature is that using a special indent the mini block can be neatly slotted into the medium block and the medium block can be slotted into the large block when you want to transplant your developing plants. We purchased the mini and the medium sized blockers.

Mini Soil Blocker from underneath showing the shaping that creates the indent for each seed
Mini Soil Blocker from underneath showing the shaping that creates the indent for each seed

In theory the air around each block stops the roots of different plants tangling together and they are therefore less prone to damage when you come to plant out in the garden.

Medium Soil Blocker from underneath showing the shaping that creates the indent for each seed
Medium Soil Blocker from underneath showing the shaping that creates the indent for each seed

So how did we get on.

Creating the compost blocks works very well. Each block comes neatly out of the blocker and has a small dibble (technical term!) in the top to allow you to place your seed in. The down side is that loading the blocker with damp compost can be a rather messy business. We tend to start sowing early in the season to give our plants a good head start. Because it is cold and miserable outside we often work in the snug kitchen sowing seeds and pricking out. It is quite easy to sow seeds indoors with dry compost in small seed trays which you can carefully water but really not practical using large buckets of damp wet compost and a soil blocker. Really a job for the greenhouse only.

Compost blocks
Moist compost blocks in standard seed tray ready to receive the seeds

Being able to sow individual seeds in separate blocks made good use of expensive F1 seed in particular and the seeds did seem to germinate very well.

One seed (in this case garden peas) is placed in each indent ready for germination
One seed (in this case garden peas) is placed in each indent ready for germination
Indent filled with fine vermiculite to cover the seed keep the soil and seed moist
Indent filled with fine vermiculite to cover the seed keep the soil and seed moist

Our main problems began to emerge once the plants had started to grow. We found it quite difficult to keep the blocks moist enough. This was particularly the case for the smallest mini blocks. Watering from above tended to break down the compost blocks we had carefully created so the only satisfactory way to keep them adequately moist was to place the trays in a shallow bath of water and leave them to soak. This worked well but was extremely time consuming and was not really practical for the large number of seed trays we have to deal with each year.

The idea of being able to slot a mini block into the larger medium block also appealed but we found this to be very time consuming and we soon lost patience with this approach.

Over time we stopped using the mini block and sowed our seeds directly into the medium block. When the plants were large enough we either planted the blocks directly out into the garden or potted them up into larger plastic pots as appropriate. The roots held the blocks together very well and we did find them extremely easy to plant out or pot up at speed.

We found that some plants thrive better than others in the blocks – probably because we were struggling to keep them all watered well in the greenhouse and polytunnels as the weather warmed up. I was quite surprised to find that the medium blocks worked very well for podding peas for the vegetable garden. Because I loose a lot of seeds to mice and voles if I sow directly into the ground I have for a number of years started my peas off in modules and then planted these into the ground when they are big enough to look after themselves. Sowing individual seeds into the medium blocks created strong robust plants which then grew away wonderfully well when planted out. There was little or no disturbance to the roots and I think they appreciated this.

The fact that we have brought the ‘Soil blockers’ out to use again for a second year I think shows they are a valuable addition to our gardening equipment. I don’t think they actually saved us much time or reduce the number of pots we use but for some plants they worked very well indeed. In reality we use our plastic pots again and again, year after year. The watering was a real problem and so I suspect we will only use the ‘Soil Blockers’ this year for seedlings that really hate root disturbance and worked well with this approach.

Further information

Ladbrooke Soil Blockers are available from www.soilblockers.com

Man cannot live by flowers alone – time to start sowing the Broad Beans

Believe it or not our life is not all about colourful flowers!  The vegetable garden also plays an important part in our enjoyment, getting us out in the fresh air and harvesting what we grow.  As it is now the 6 March and the sun is out it seemed perfect for sowing the first broad beans of the year.

Each year we tend to grow a mix of old favourites that we know will do well in our soil and we also have fun trying out some new varieties.

This year we are growing three (descriptions by Marshalls Seeds):

  • The Sutton – “perfect for small or exposed gardens on account of the bushy, compact plants which grow to a manageable 35-45cm (15-18in) tall.
  • Masterpiece Green Longpod – “a reliable and popular long pod Broad Bean variety with up to 6 or 7 flavoursome beans per pod  … excellent for freezing and have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit for its great qualities.
  • Scabiola Verde –  “vigorous spring-sown, longpod variety of broad bean that produces pods up to a whopping 40cm (16in) in length with up to 10 beans per pod.

Although you can plant direct into the ground we always have much more success by sowing in pots in the greenhouse and planting out when the soil is warmer and the new plants are more robust.  We have more luck in staying on top of the mice and voles this way.

We plant two seeds to each 3 inch pot filled with a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite.   When the seedlings emerge I remove the weakest one and let the other grow away strongly.  I hate to end up with some pots with nothing growing in them.

Broad Beans are sown in 3 inch pots with a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite
Broad Beans are sown in 3 inch pots with a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite

The trays of pots are watered well, covered with cling film and placed in a cold greenhouse to germinate.  I cover the trays with cling film so that I do not have to worry about watering again until the seedlings emerge.  The seedlings are uncovered immediately the shoots break the surface.

The strong plants will be planted out in neat (very satisfying) double rows in April/May. The beauty of growing in pots is that you get complete rows with no gaps.

As the summer moves on the bees will come and the beans will form usually cropping from around May until August depending on when they have been sown.  For me the beans are best picked young and eaten fresh.

I have to say it is an extremely pleasant activity just sitting in the evening sun with a glass of wine, quietly podding the beans ready for supper.  I am looking forward to it already!

Further information

Scientific name:  Vicia faba

Family: Fabaceae

Origin:  Western Asia  (ref:  Kew Science)

 

Join us on this journey- creating a beautiful English country garden.

We are starting a new era and setting out on an exciting journey – we would like you to share this with us.

We are Carol and Steve Lucey, a husband and wife team with a life long interest in growing beautiful plants, being creative and enjoying the countryside.  We are now in a position to spend more time developing our own garden, building on over 30 years working in agriculture and horticulture research, as a garden designer and professional gardener and more recently growing a wide range of wonderful British cut flowers.  For the last six years we have had great fun, developing a new business providing locally grown British cut flowers and events floristry for weddings, gifts and celebrations.

For a number of years our flower garden, though beautiful has been a rather utilitarian space.  The objective has been to grow as many flowers as possible.  Not a bad objective but we feel it is now time to develop the garden into a more creative and beautiful space, focusing on the enjoyment of wonderful plant combinations rather than purely seeking the biggest income.

Although it is a great pleasure in its own right a garden is for sharing and through this blog we would like to share our successes and the inevitable failures and ask you for your advice and comment.

As well as the development of the garden we are keen to exploit what it produces.  Much of the garden yields produce to eat and we will be sharing some of the exciting recipes and drinks that result.  We would love to receive your recipes as well.

Our life in wedding floristry also remains a passion and over the months we will bring together some of the wonderful flower combinations that you may wish to try out yourself.

Finally, we share the garden with the local wildlife and will share the rich biodiversity that we have around us.

We look forward to hearing from you over the coming years!