Seedlings and snowdrops romping ahead

It may be snowing today, but the previous mild weather has made the garden romp ahead. The show of snowdrops is weeks ahead of last year. Although I don’t know much about the varieties I grow – a mix of singles and doubles, tall ones and short ones – they thrive here and each year I have many more of them.  Last year I divided the clumps and redistributed them and it has really paid off.  It is looking so pretty, I must indulge in a snowdrop montage:

Or maybe two snowdrop montages!

snowdrop montageAll these shots were taken today (18th Feb) – the alternating heavy snow and brilliant sun was more mad March than February!

Until today – isn’t always winter at the weekend? – it has been beautiful gardening weather. Shame I’ve been deskbound and not able to partake.

I’ve gone seed sowing crazy!

The one indoor job that is easy to fit round the day job is seed sowing.  Lulled by the mild weather, every window sill is already a propagation production line. Space is going to be tight be late April!

The usual over-ordering of seed is complete.  For the first time I have bought a lot of my seed from Nickys Nursery.  I haven;t used them before, but I was particularly keen to grow Stevia and they were on of the few suppliers.  As it turned out they have a really interesting range of stuff and I bought a lot of herbs and pretty things.  The seed and instructions are nice and clear and I’ve been impressed so far.

I’m probably unlikely to succeed with Stevia – even Basil finds my windowsills too chilly – but a sugar substitute herb with no calories….  You have to try, right?  I shall indulge it with heat like a rare orchid!

I have refined quite an efficient little system of seed germination. The hot progator gets things started.  Then they move to the cool propagator, which helps them onwards gently so they don’t die of shock in my freezing house.  Then they move onto the windowsills.

I find that on the hot propagator, plastic bags (especially sandwich bags) – rather than the tray lids that came with the propagator – are ideal for keeping the humidity and temperature right.  The seed tray lids seem to result in the germinated seeds cooking to a crisp, whereas there is rarely a loss with in the sandwich bags!

No doubt I have over ordered the seed and have probably started sowing too early (the first batches started last week in January) but it makes me happy!  And right now the all seedlings are looking pretty happy too.   Growing nicely so far:

  • Sweet peas (loads of varieties, especially scented ones)
  • Chillies
  • Diasca
  • Training pansy
  • Stevia
  • Geranium
  • Salvia
  • Basil  (goodness knows why, it never thrives & I end up buying plants from the supermarket)
  • Perennial cornflowers

And as soon as one lot move off the hot propagator, that makes space for something else!  My challenge is never at the seedling stage, it is in the finding space where they get enough light during the hardening off process.  Any tips?


Rays of hope in the winter garden

Through the gloom of the miserly 6 hours of gardening daylight (not to mention the never ending rain) there shines hope!  Just enough, I think, to propel me damply into February.  first snowdropFor the first snowdrop is here, spotted on the 6th January – a full month ahead of last year.

This is always a major moment in my gardening year – like the first Swift returning.  It signals to me that whatever the extent of my incompetence or neglect, or however much it feels the elements have all unfairly conspired against me, it is going to be OK.  Things are still growing.  My mistakes are of minuscule significance on the scale of things. And, heck, it takes more than a few feet of rain to deter these tough little Galanthus guys.  The flowers aren’t open yet, most are still just pushing their way through – but who cares?  It means life goes on!

There are actually abundant signs of life all over the garden, so it is probably silly to burden the little snowdrop with so much sentimental symbolism.  cyclamenThe cyclamen hederifolium, for example, has been glowing in its slowly expanding clump for many weeks.  As hardy as anything, I would have more by now, had I not managed to plant all my expensive new coums upside down a few years back.  Fortunately, this particular specimen was bought already in flower, so it was somewhat easier to figure out which way was up!

I’ve been far too ashamed to buy any more coums since my debacle. Happily plenty of the seed I have collected over the last few years has germinated, so there are lots of baby cyclamen bulking up in pots.  But I’ll only plant them out once they look big enough to stand up to the thuggish blackbirds and vine weevil they will have to contend with.

Another plant putting on a heroic show is the Christmas box, Sarcococca Confusa. Sarcococca ConfusaI have propagated loads of little plants from this parent shrub and it just takes it all in its stride, smelling heavenly and glowing away.  It is perhaps a little too glowing (a touch of yellow compared to previous years?), which makes me think it will need a good feed come Spring.  I may even plant it into the garden (it lives in a pot at present) and create a little area of shady hedging.

So with spirits soaring after a relatively not-that-wet-or-cold-compared-to-usual Sunday in the garden, I felt justified, nay, compelled to drink wine and order seeds.  Unfortunately in that order.  I now have a LOT of seeds en route to Inverness – but that is another post entirely!


Gardening Scotland Heaven

What a finish to three weeks of near-non stop travelling – a sunbaked visit to Gardening Scotland for some much needed plant therapy.

It really was a fabulous show. I’ve only been to Chelsea once, but I really do prefer Gardening Scotland.  It has a terrific floral hall, lots of the exhibitors go to Chelsea too, but its scale and focus is more human and far more relevant to us mere mortals.  Plus it is covered by the best gardening programme on TV – Beechgrove Garden.  I attended a couple of really useful Q&A sessions in the Beechgrove Theatre tent, got to ask a question, and was reminded how knowledgable, down to earth and entertaining the Beechgrove bridage and experts from Edinburgh and St Andrews Botanic Garden are.

It was a baking hot day (when I returned to my car at 4pm, the temperature in Edinburgh was 28 degrees) and so the floral hall was not only a feast of flowers, but extremely heady with scent too.  I wanted to channel my inner bee and curl up among the lillies.

gardening scotland floral hall

Impressive floral hall displays

Naturally there was a retail component to the visit, but I was pretty restrained and only spent the cash I had set aside.  I even tried to set myself a wishlist in advance so as not to get tempted by pretty flowery things I don’t need.

The plant I was most hoping to buy was a new white anenome.

Beautiful Anemone Wild Swan

And by being super sharp through the gate when it opened at 10am, by 10.15am I was the proud owner of Anemone Wild Swan – the Chelsea Flower Show plant on the year. They soon sold out, so I was glad I was quick of the mark.

I was really hoping to get this particular plant as the anemones I planted from corms have done so well this year and I wanted to try a new variety.  This one is beautifully white at the front, but with blue tints at the back.

At the gardening Q&A session I asked a question about growing anemones from seed (mine have great big seed heads just now and I have been very tempted to experiment with sowing them in trays).  Apparently it is perfectly doable, but the plants take about three years to flower.  When grown from seeds these plants can have all sorts of random variations, which is how something like Wild Swan comes about.  That sounds like scope for fun!

So I shall definitely be experimenting with propogating anemones this year, just in case I manage to produce a show winner like Anemone Wild Swan.

It’s starting to feel a lot like summer

Weeks of beautiful weather, no frost since March and night time temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius have left the garden firmly in summer mode. Alliums are flowering, as are self seeded antirrhinums.  Tree lillies are growing an inch a day and the mix of  annuals sowed outside just last week have already germinated.

hardening off cuttings

Doorstep is the perfect hardening off spot

The overwintered cuttings of begonias, fuchsia and pelargonium are romping away and are being hardened off in the front porch, out of the cold wind.  The begonias and pelargoniums have been left out all night for the last two evenings and now I can barely restrain myself from rushing to plant everything  out.

But, the big question is will there be more frost?  It feels so unlikely – especially when just last night we were in the garden until past midnight.  Yet the pretty useful gardeners almanac (not to mention the super trusty Beechgrove Garden) put early June (week 23/24)  as the safe planting out date for this location.  That is a full month away.

The fuchsias are definitely still coming indoors at night for a few weeks yet.  But some of the pelargoniums (including cuttings from plants bought at RHS Tatton Park last year) are looking so lovely, it seems a shame to hide them away unless really necessary.

Pelargonium Voodoo already in flower

The one shown on the right has been flowering for a couple of weeks now and is on temporary display outside in the front porch, where it is sunny and fairly sheltered.

If I can control the desire to rush out and plant everything tomorrow, I shall probably hedge my bets by planting the tender plants mostly in pots and keeping a few back plants indoors just in case.  Plus I’m taking cuttings from the cuttings, which root in a week or so just now, so there should be plenty of stock.

I’d be interested to know how and when other people decide it is time to brave it and move things outside for good.

Flame flower germination success

Tropaeolum speciosum (the Flame Flower) is a plant I only discovered when I moved to Scotland. Though I often read it described as half hardy (really?!?) it is a faithful stalwart of the garden, returning year after year to creep through shrubs on the shady side of the back garden.  And so far this “half hardy annual” has returned year after year and sustained temperatures of minus 20.

Come September, it looks incredible as it winds its way through Yew and next door’s evil Leylandii.  For the last two years the 3 plants I have (all garden centre bought) have also been covered in hundreds of bright steely blue seeds.

I wasn’t sure how to germinate them, so I tried different methods – indoor and out, cold and warm, shady and sunny, pots and trays.  In the first year I had a single germination (outside and shady) and it didn’t survive.  The rest didn’t appear to germinate and so I eventually recycled the seed compost and planted other stuff.

This year, it seemed my strike rate had doubled – I got two. I’ve fussed and nurtured them and they’re doing well in the cold greenhouse tent.  The rest seemed dead and so again, I reused the seed compost.

Well, this week I was away for 8 days on a work trip.  I neglected everything outside.  We had gales, sun and monsoons apparently.

And completely bizarrely, dozens and dozens of flame flowers have germinated in my absence.  Whether it is this years or last year’s seed I am not sure – they have popped up in pots and seed trays that have other things in.  They are in with the seed lillies, in with the cuttings – even in my Pitcher Plants that catches bugs in my greenhouse tent.  (I have no idea at all how a seed got there, I definitely didn’t plant it.)

So, clearly, a shady, unheated greenhouse is all they require – plus one, or maybe two years wait.  And possibly help from the local mice or birds.  I’m looking forward to getting these beauties planted round the garden – and given they sell at £5 to £7.50 per little plant, I feel I’ve made a little fortune from thin air!

Dividing snowdrops in the green

Seeing adverts in the back of the gardening magazines recently for snowdrops in the green has made me covet even more of these cheerful. little flowers.  They make me feel so happy when they break through in late January or February, it seems impossible to imagine having too many.


Right now there are clumps of singles and doubles all around the garden, most of which I bought in the green a few years back.  They’re just starting to go over their prime, though they still look great.  But there are plenty of spots that would benefit by being brightened up by these bulbs.

But rather than buy more, I decided to divide up the ones I have, especially where the clumps have become dense and crowded.  It was incredible to discover just have many “free” new plants I gained myself.  In some of the densest clumps, there were 20 or more bulbs in just a fist size ball.

Last night I was out after work dividing snowdrops until nearly 7pm (it was almost dark).  And it isn’t even officially spring yet.  I imagine I will have got myself at least 300 or 400 hundred extra snowdrops out of it, so pretty productive for an evenings work!

Perils of a Garden View

The reason I am a wistful gardener, as opposed to an exhausted or thoroughly satisfied gardener, is that however much I love gardening, it is a hobby not my livelihood.  My efforts are largely confined to the weekends, summer evenings and the odd half an hour grabbed during the working week.

Instead I spend my home-office-bound days gazing wistfully out at my garden, noting the never-ending lists of tasks I could be completing and observing how the plants first knit together, then soon start jostling for precious space.

Gradually the plants encroach indoors too.  Right now window sills brim with geranium, begonia and fuchsia cuttings that have survived the window and tiny seedlings, fresh from the window sill propagators are starting to harden off indoors.

Bursting window sills

Seedlings, cuttings and seed potatoes fight it out

Though with late snow falling as I write, it seems forever before they will be outdoors.

So this wistful gardener spends rather more time observing and longing to be gardening, than she would like.  But maybe I’m a better gardener because of it.  The first few years of building my garden (started 8 years ago) involved a rush to plant in random things in random places with too little thought.  Many of those plants have since been moved or have grown into bigger handfuls than I imagined.  Plus not taking the time to fix the structure first was a big mistake.

But as a wistful gardener, I get to plot and plan and of course think about all kinds of things I could buy or grow from seed.  These days I have a more accurate sense of the final look in my head before I plant things.

This blog aims to be part diary, part planning tool and part advice exchange as I share how my garden evolves over the coming year.