A Soft Shuffle into Spring

Forsythia flowers, brightly coloured against the sky.

This years spring weather has been rather nice in Edinburgh and everything’s coming out a little ahead instead of five weeks behind like last year.  With coursework piling up I’ve been finding it hard to keep on top of anything that isn’t really essential but I was determined to get my garden started and, since we get an Easter break, I’ve actually had a chance to.

The image at the top of the page is the ‘twig’ of a plant I was wondering about in the last post.   Of all of the random shrubs for it to be, Forsythia is one I don’t mind too much.  It doesn’t seem to be doing spectacularly well where it is, however, so I may have to move it from where it is or give it some decent formative pruning.  Luckily, it’s still young enough that either shouldn’t be a huge problem.

 newgarden_5 Raised beds with various support / covering structures.

Since my last post I have decided to be brave and cut down my elder tree (Sambucus nigra).  I was going to wait until it had flowered, but then I’d have had to wait another year to cut it back and it was more than a little nuisance where it is – over a pathway, close to the front of the building and growing into the hedge.  One other reason I wasn’t too sad to see it go was that there’s new growth coming from the base.  At some point I believe it was probably being kept as a shrub as it has quite a massive stool from which I can hope I’ll get a more shrubby-growing Sambucus.

Into the raised beds have gone: lettuce, spinach, and pak choi (under the fleece) and sweetpeas (under the ungainly green structure).

I’m going to add more beds to the garden but I need to figure out the logistics as there is (I found out, whilst installing the raised beds) that there is a pipe running about a half-spades depth diagonally across the garden – hence the oddly shaped raised bed at the end.  I want most of my garden to be growing space, but I’m not sure of the logistics of getting it all done over the holidays!

Further to that, I really want to get my pond in the ground somewhere.  Due to the early spring, the little Aponogeton is already flowering – it didn’t do so until July last year!  It’s a great little plant, has been very reliable for me even in Scotland and doesn’t take over my tiny pond.  Unlike the blanketweed…


The lawn is a little mossy and weedy, something I hope to fix once I’ve decided how little of the grass is going to be allowed to remain! However, some weeds I could definitely put up with:



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Full Circle

In a few weeks time we’re going to be moving house and so I will be leaving the first garden which has been ‘mine’.  I’ve ‘packed up’ the garden, returning it back to a more ‘low maintenance’ space and digging up a few of the plants I can’t bear to part with – my ‘rescued’ 50p bronze grass which has become two beautiful specimens a couple of feet across, some cuttings of my grown-from-seed buddleja, my hostas and some herb cuttings.

Some pictures charting my few years growing here: (more…)

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It’s All Gone To P(l)ot


It’s been a shamefully long time since I last blogged but here I am again, having been re-enthused by the vagaries of life, much as I’d been drawn away from blogging by same.

I’m now studying Horticulture with Plantsmanship at RBGE and SRUC – a course which combines practical, hands on gardening and how-it-all-works theory.  It’s been a bit of a mad few months getting back into the rhythm of studying – evening time isn’t really your own – there’s essays or projects or idents to be taken care of and just keeping the normal things in life going seems hard enough without adding more writing on top even in the enjoyable form of blogging.  However, now that the first semester is past and Christmas / New Year is fading in the face of slowly increasing daylight, I seem to have begun to get used to everything and can contemplate activities other than eat, sleep, coursework, take care of cat, repeat ad nauseum.

Given both myself and the other half are now in Edinburgh we’re contemplating moving closer to town – travel costs are ridiculous (getting worse every year) and travelling for 2 1/2 hours a day is really eating any spare time we do have.  This means, however, that I’m not likely to have a garden this year – there’s not much point in building up all of the usual annual plants and veg when I might not be here in the summer and, if we move out, we’ll be restoring the garden to its former paved and gravelled ‘glory’ before we go.

On the upside, I do have a plot this year for my course, so I can throw my energies into it without worrying too much about my own garden being left bare.  I’ve started a blog for it over here to chronicle how that goes.

Double digging

However, not having a garden won’t mean nothing green at home and nothing for me to have here – my woes with bugs on my indoor plants have subsided (for now, at least) and I finally have flowers on my plants again.  I have broadened my collection, this time around, and now have a few other gesneriads alongside my violets – Sinningia, Streptocarpus, Columnea, Aeschynanthus and Petrocosmea. I’ve also been growing some  carnivorous plants – Drosera spathulata.  It’s apparently one of the easiest to grow from seed and I’ve been quite tickled to sit and feed them bits of crushed up mealworms to help them grow faster!

Sonata-kolchuga african violet

Also, it’s been a while, so obviously it’s time for a silly-cat-picture.   Come hell or high water, Sam must sit on my lap…



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Water Feature

Water plants in bags, ready to 'plant'.

Last week was fairly exciting for me garden-wise – for the first time ever I have a pond in my garden!  Well, pond might be a stretch, but it’s a fair-sized container which is now sited in a slightly shaded spot in the garden.

Pond filled with plants. Water hyacinth. Air bladder on water plant.

Water snail getting used to its new home.

The collection, which I bought from Paul Bromfield Aquatics for a very reasonable price of £15.10 contained an Aponogeton, Nymphoides peltata, Einchornia crassipes, Lagarosiphon major, & Hydrocharis morsus ranae as well as 6 Black Ramshorn snails.  They all seem to be settling in well, which I’m rather glad for as I’ve no idea what I’m doing with aquatic plants, to be honest.  I try to spot the snails each morning and can usually see one or two of them kicking around on either the gravel or the side of the container.

'Celebration' bean flower. 'Scarlet Emperor' bean flower. 'Mrs. Fortune's Climbing Bean' bean flower.

Beans growing along twine.

The beans seem to be coming into their own – this is a first for me as I’ve just never quite managed to grow beans before.  These were on my ‘try harder’ list for this year and something seems to have just clicked.  The three different flowered varieties above are ‘Celebration’, ‘Scarlet Emperor’ and ‘Mrs. Fortune’s Climbing Bean’, the last being one kindly sent to me over a year ago by Matron.  Hopefully I can manage to get a through of these through to producing actual pods!

As you can see from the last photo I ran out of ‘up’ on my beanpoles and so tied some twine for them to climb across to the pea wigwams since the peas aren’t likely to grow that tall.  Hopefully growing across won’t give them any problems and, if it works, should certainly be a useful way to grow them in the future without having to buy much taller poles (which won’t fit for storage in the shed).

Coriander in flower. Reine des Glaces lettuce. Variegated thyme in flower.

Coriander, Reine des Glaces lettuce and citrus thyme.  I got a new type of coriander this year – one meant for leaf rather than seed production and was very pleased with the results.  Until these every one I’d planted had run straight to seed – I hadn’t known there were different types and cultivars which were better for one over the other (it seems obvious now).  The lettuce, ‘Reine des Glaces’ has grown well for me too, outperforming the old favourite ‘Webb’s Wonderful’ in my garden as a crisphead lettuce.  ‘Really Red Deer’s Tongue’ and  Forellenschloss, the two distinctive looking lettuces I first grew last year, have performed well again this year as has ‘Little Gem’.  I had no germination from my Red Iceberg seeds, though – which is odd given that I’ve never had germination problems with seed from the company I got them from – I can only imagine the dull summer weather has affected them or that they are very, very slow germinators!  It’s a shame as I’d really like to have tried them.  I will, soon, be planting some lettuces for winter – I love my salads from the garden and would like to stretch the season a bit longer.

Pea flower with odd pattern. Onions.

This beautiful pea flower is from ‘Golden Sweet’ – not all of the plants have this pattern so I’m not sure if it’s a ‘problem’ or just variation.  It does look rather pretty, though.  Onions are actually something I had on my  ‘don’t bother’ list this year but ended up trying due to cheap sets of ‘Yellow Sturon’.  I am pleased with the results – I don’t really have the space to grow the onions from seed as I have so many other things I want more which need that early windowsill space.  I think I’d try growing onions again, given this results with sets given the low prices.

Daddy long legs mating.


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African Violet Updates

Unfortunately, since my last african violet blog post I’ve had a mini-disaster – one of the reasons I’ve not much felt like posting recently.  At some point I got a plant in my collection which had mites and mites, for those who don’t know, are fairly devastating to AVs.  They stunt the grown of the crown and cause horrible leaf deformation, a huge slowing of growth and twisted flowers if they manage to bloom in the first place.  Unfortunately, the treatment for mites is almost as problematic (for me) as the mites themselves and between the stress of the mites and treatment, I ended up losing, probably, ~80-90% of my violets.

Luckily, having had so many of my little seedling hybrids to start with, I still have some of them!  I lost a growing seed pod, but it doesn’t feel quite so bad to lose ‘possible’ future plants as it would to lose those young ones which are getting close to maturity – or at least flowering size.  From around 140, I now have 30-odd plants.  Not all of them died to the problems – once I’d lost a few I found it was a little more inured to whittling them down.  Before this, I had no idea how I’d be able to even cull a single one, despite the fact I knew I just didn’t have the space for 140 violets!

So far, only one is starting to flower – many of them are showing at least some trailing habit which means they’re concentrating on producing more crowns before they’ll put up flowers.  I’m happy to wait this out as I’d rather have a better idea of how they grow than remove all of the suckers and see the flowers earlier.  It’s decent trailing plants which I want – good form and shape, before trying to get pretty colours.  This means, of course, that the only one which is flowering is one of the very few non-trailer type plants.

Even it’s being especially slow – teasing me with a slow, daily, petal-by-petal form of opening.  The first bud is a lot paler than the rest, so even when it does get a move on it’s not likely going to be a good representation of the plant – I’m going to have to wait for the second one to slowly tease its way open over the next few days!

I can’t believe I have my first flowering hybrid, though – I didn’t really imagine I’d get this far when I first pollinated the parent plant nearly a whole year ago.  The fact that they’re this far along, flowering after 6-7 months, feels amazing given that they had such a rough start.

 Species & Restocking

Since the mitepocalypse, as I’ve come to refer to it, I’ve restocked a bit.  Wonderfully kind Angelika Dibley sent me some plants when I was probably at my lowest regarding my violets – I wasn’t sure if I could summon the energy to continue with them.  Her kindness cheered me up enough to give me the kick in the bum I needed to get cracking and, as well as restocking my plants, I’ve gained some new shelves for them to live on!

To restock, I also grabbed some plants at Gardening Scotland from Dibleys stall – some I’d had before and lost, others which were new.  They’ve always gone out of their way to be helpful and this show I walked away with some lovely fully grown AVs alongside some other gesneriad plugs.

I also grabbed some leaves from Galina Domnina.   Although the site, at first glance, looks only to be in German and Russian, there’s also English in there too.  The shopping cart won’t work if you use google translate, so if you’re curious to read all of the russian etc. then make sure you cancel it before buying.  The leaves I bought from her were top quality and I’m looking forward to them eventually spawning young-uns.

Additionally, I was given a species plant from a member of the AVSE  (African Violet Society of Europe), Gabi.  We’re keen on keeping the species going in collections all over the AV world  and so she kindly sent me a plant of S. ionantha ssp. grotei (formerly S. difficilis).

One downside to the mitepocalypse and subsequent restocking, though, is that all new material is being strictly quarantined.  Once was enough!  This means that most of my violets are under plastic – not the prettiest look.  However, eventually they’ll all be back in action and I’m looking forward to having shelves full of bloom again.

It also hasn’t stopped me starting on the next generation (albeit self-pollinated).

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Quick Garden Recap

The last few months have really been hefty on new things to do and, whilst I’ve had time to work in the garden, I’ve not had time to post about it here!  I feel bad about that as writing in my blog is something I’ve always enjoyed doing.

One of the biggest changes this year has been the addition of many more ornamentals into the garden.  Edibles of many sorts still take up most of the back garden space but, if the ‘shady side garden’ and the newly dug ‘way back there’ garden are taken together, I think I’m suddenly now at half ornamental, half produce!  In saying that, the ‘WBT’ garden is still a little sparse, so it’s got a little way to go before it catches up with the others.

I managed to get along to Gardening Scotland again this year and picked up a few plants to combat the sparseness – some hostas for the shade and a beautiful, orange flowered and leaved deciduous rhodedendron which apparently grows more up than out – perfect for my thin beds.

On the veg side, I’ve actually got broad bean pods this year! Two, so far, from the one plant which survived the non-winter we had (the rest were slug-munched, due to the severe lack of cold) but the spring planted ones are catching up fast.  I’m trying another variety, ‘Listra’, which I received in a swap, alongside Aquadulce Longpod.  It’s supposed to be an early podding variety which can be sown fairly late – at the moment both it and the Aquadulce which were sown at the same time are flowering so we’ll see how the pods develop.

The non-winter we had this year seems to have been followed by a non-summer except for the two weeks of sunshine about a month ago.  The plants don’t seem to mind it too much – anything which wants a lot of water is doing well – such as the peas and beans, lettuce, chard, berry bushes and potatoes – but I’m hoping there’s going to be enough warm weather for them to actually crop well.  Last year was a bit of a dud, and I was hoping to do better.


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Marching On

Forget-me-nots are a favourite of mine – I’m not sure exactly why.  Perhaps just because they’re delicate looking yet hardy little things which bloom for a surprisingly long season.

March was a busy month, and I’d been enjoying the garden a lot, what with the heatwave.  Now that we’re back to the usual drizzly weather I thought I’d best actually note down some of what’s went on last month.

The above pictures show the ‘new bed’ for this year – really an extension of the main bed which I’ve been meaning to do for a while.   Once I knew for sure we weren’t going to move I went at it with a vengeance.  The walkway at the back is for easier access – there was no point in making it thinner or omitting it as the sun never reaches that part of the garden due to the fence.  As it is, I now have easy access and a spot for dry-shade plants if I want to try some (on the gravel edge).

This new section has almost doubled my growing area for veggies on this side of the garden.   I’ve already put in my pea teepees (the ugly white fabric was protecting the pea seeds from being eaten) and installed a ‘cold frame’ – one of the flyaway greenhouses on its side with the top removed so that I could slide the plastic cover down over the bottom.  You can see the top stuck into the ground next to it – I’ll be using it as a frame for covering various things later in the season.  I’ve also got plans for the old internal shelves – cages for possibly growing vines in/on.  Because of the changes I made to the patio I wouldn’t have had space for it upright, anyway, and now  I’ve gained a much more useful, slightly shaded coldframe.  The other greenhouse is up now, too, and firmly secured to the fence.  It’s going to be used for warmer crops as it sits in the sun all day.  I’m hoping to try some aubergines this year!

The spring bulbs have been out in force, urged on by the sunny weather.

Fritillaria meleagris

Daffodil (Pink Blend Mix) Tulip (Sherbet blend mix)
Daffodil unknown miniatureYellow hyacinth
Tulip Fosteriana Orange Emperor

I’ve sown what feels like hundreds of seeds last month.  This month is a little calmer but I’ll also be starting to sow things successionally so that I can eat my salads out of the garden all summer.  I haven’t included my lettuces, spinach, rocket or pak choi in my seed sowing lists as I tend to sow them ‘on the fly’ or as a catch crop if and when I think I have space.

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March Seed Bonanza

This year I decided to put my seeds into monthly bags to make it easier to see what I had to sow each month.  This means that every time I open the bag I know I can pick up the seeds I need and I won’t ‘miss’ any due to forgetting that I put them off for a week.  There were a couple of things, last year, which went in too late because, despite having a list, I either couldn’t find the seed packet at the right time or I was distracted by something, forgot them, and scored them off of my list.

Within each bag, the packets are sorted by week:

The unbound packets are week 1, the others are held together until I’m done with the packets and then left loose too.  Anything which might need resown is rubber banded for ease of grabbing.  It’s still not a great system but the bags are easier to store than a solid seedbox.

As you can see in the first picture March is by far my busiest month.  A lot of hardy annuals start to be able to be sown outside this month and many others indoor for planting out in a month or two.

My March planting list is here.  It tends to be a little fluid – I had my amaranthus in week one, but had to move it as I was ill at the tail end of last week and never got them in.  The aim is to give myself a guide  to what needs done vaguely in which week and to give myself a record of what was sown when so I can look back next year and decide whether that was a good time to sow or not.

Things which are resown throughout the year, such as lettuces, mustard greens etc. are in a bag of their own as moving them from pack to pack every time would have been annoying and would have meant stuffing the bags overfull – I have a lot of lettuce seeds this year due to some swaps I made during winter!

Daffodil in front of a tree stumpThe first daffodil of the year for my garden has finally poked its head up – I’m glad it’s managed to make it as both my hyacinths and eranthis (winter aconites) have been horribly munched by something – no idea what.  The aconites have had all of their petals ripped off, the hyacinths have huge holes in their buds – any ideas?



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February Round-up

It’s been a fairly wet, warm and windy February – we had a short cold snap but it didn’t really stick here in Scotland.  The bulbs I planted have all started to come up – even the tulips, which I thought I wouldn’t see for another month or so.

As per my own sowing calendar, found here, I’ve already started getting my seeds in for a large number of plants.  Balancing window space at this time of year can be a problem so I wanted to get things moving along – even if it does mean some young plants are a little spindlier than I’d like.

As well as the burgeoning pile of seeds, I also have my potatoes in the window to chit.  This year I’m growing Arran Victory and Epicure again, and trying Kestrel.  Much as I loved my Salad Blue potatoes I think Andy was a little weirded out by blue mash and gnocchi I made with them so I went for more traditionally coloured ones this year.  The Arran Victory potatoes have a lovely red skin, but they have a ‘normal’ creamy interior.  They also make amazing mash and roast potatoes!  Epicure performed well for me last year and is a great tasting first early.  I was born in Ayrshire and I grew up eating them as they are the seed used for ‘Ayrshire new potatoes’ –  so I may be a little biased ;)

This little sliver of ground between the path and wall has always looked slightly drab at this time of year.  The foxgloves have gone a ways to helping brighten it up in summer but at the moment, as you can see, they’re just fresh little rosettes.  The crocuses peeping up between them couldn’t have worked better – they contrast well with the bright, young foxgloves in a delicate way.

Some other splashes or colour are just starting to show now, too – the ‘Victorian Lace’ primrose is one I’m particularly happy to see.  I got it last year, rescued from a reduced price shelf,  just before I went into hospital.  Andy did a sterling job of watering all my plants whilst I was in for the unexpectedly long stay but this little primrose happened to have been left in the hallway for later planting – behind a door and not easily visible… and so it was forgotten.  When I got home it was a sad, wilted thing but I knew primroses were made of sterner stuff so I popped it in the ground and watered it well – it thrived, putting on a lot of leaf, and is now rewarding our neglect with it’s funky, distinctive little flowers.

 The not-quite-so-colourful last picture is also something I’m quite chuffed with – it’s open pollinated viola seed from the garden.  I’ve never grown my own from seed but decided this year that I had to give it a go – I realised I should be able to grow my own bedding a lot more cheaply (and with more variety) than if I bought it.  Even if it doesn’t work out superbly, it’s more experience with growing a wider range of plants!  I’m trying out viola, as mentioned, lobelia (both cascading and mounding types), french marigolds, coleus and aquilegia and, possibly, some poached-egg plant if I can find the space.

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February’s Heating Up…

I really wasn’t expecting to see these cheery little flowers yet – I don’t think my dwarf irises showed themselves until late April or May last year because of the horrible spring we had.  This year, however, the weather’s been suspiciously mild. I say suspiciously as I can only believe that the Scottish weather is being nice so that when the almost-inevitable blizzard hits us it’ll feel so much worse!

I took advantage of that good weather, fleeting though it may turn out to be, to do something I’d had in mind for a while.  I knew, when I bought my little plastic greenhouse, that it likely only had a 1-2 year life in it – or at least the cover did and I had begun to wonder what I could do with the frame pieces.  It’s been spending more times on its side than I’d like, lately, so I decided to go ahead and use one of the ideas that had come to mind – to turn it into a flat coldframe.

I took the top curved section off to give me a square frame, removed the shelves and internal middle struts put the cover back on, lined the base with some bubble wrap and thick plastic, with a paving slab to secure everything.  I used cable ties to secure the ends of the cover to the bottom of the frame (leaving the ‘flap’ loose where the zip is) and filled it with some sweet peas covered in fleece.  I’m going to use the top piece, covered in netting or fleece, as a brassica cage, as well as using the shelves for either the same purpose or as a ‘tomato cage’ for my ‘litchi tomatoes’ (a spiny, hardier member of the tomato family which I’m told produces small, tart-sweet fruit).

Hopefully it won’t fly-away from this position!

Other than the iris, there’s not yet much colour in the garden – though there are a tonne of buds:

I was worried that my clematis wouldn’t make it, as I’ve never grown them before, but it seems to have a lot of big, fat buds so I’m looking forward to a show in late spring (I think that’s when this variety flowers!).

Talking of buds:

It’s time for potato chitting!  I felt sorry for the postman when he brought these to the door – he mentioned he was glad to get the box out of his bag.  I don’t know if he’d have been amused if I told him he’d been hauling potatoes around, hehe.  This year’s varieties are ‘Arran Victory’, ‘Kestrel’ and ‘Epicure’ – Kestrel being the only one of the three that I’ve not tried before.  I ordered them from alanromans.com – having seen the man himself give an energetic presentation at the Dundee Food and Flower show (also, JBA, another great seed potato vendor and the one I have usually bought my stock from, didn’t happen to have ‘Arran Victory’ and I had my heart set on them!).

Alongside these potatoes in the postman’s bag was 100 2 & 1/2″ pots.  I’m planning ahead for the seedling glut – something I’ll go into in my next post.

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