1 Mar 2014

Bud-wiser (February end of month)

Here in the UK, after a month of storms and rain - and the occasional sunny day - there is a palpable sense of gardeners gearing up for spring and the advent of a new sowing year.  In horticultural terms, March is the nominal end of winter but the past few months have been noticeably mild and the weather here could go either way, with the threat of sudden frosts and outbursts of caterpillars never far away.

Seen lurking on a Festuca glauca grass yesterday - lurking with intent?

With the end of month post in mind, I took a walk around the veg patch gardens yesterday in the chill sunshine to check on progress. It's good to know what might need to be protected if we do have a cold snap.

Clockwise from top left: cherry, plum, pear, cherry.  Apples not showing yet.
First stop was the fruit trees.  A Twitter chum told of cherry blossom in Bristol yesterday; no such thing here but no need for me to be envious - I'm pleased to see that the buds on my east-facing trees are, sensibly, only just beginning to open.  The plum tree is looking good with lots of new growth which I hope will be fruiting spurs (how to tell?).  Please, please, after 6 years, let this be the year that I get some fruit.  I do love a freshly picked Victoria plum! (Ditto for the pear tree.)

Next up, raspberry canes: I've left one old cane at 40cm in each batch every year and found this is a good way of having early fruit, with the new canes producing fruit into later summer. As expected, the old stems have fat buds about to burst into leaf, the new canes are just bright green leaves sprouting out of the soil. Quite a few a long way from the parent plant; they'll have to go.  I grow Autumn Bliss, a popular primocane variety (late summer fruiting, no need to tie in the branches), but have been increasingly disappointed with the quality of the fruit, although last summer the small fruit was perfect for jam :)  Funnily enough, the children don't seem to have the same high expectations that I do.  This year though I'm raising my game and last weekend I bought 5 new canes of Polka; this is another primocane that allegedly has large, juicy berries. Keep the faith.

Soft fruit doing well: new rhubarb, honeyberry, blueberry, strawberry.  
Glaskins Perpetual rhubarb is showing a lot of promise at soil level.  I am envious of those that are forcing rhubarb to enjoy earlier in the season.  As I have only have the one rhubarb, I'm reluctant to weaken the plant to appease my impatience!  Solution: I planted two little Red Champagne crowns last weekend, bought very cheaply from the supermarket.  An absolute bargain if (when!) they thrive and I'll have lovely big leafy plants in my borders as a bonus.

Last year I bought a Honeyberry plant at the RHS spring show. They're an alternative to blueberries but don't need to be grown in ericaceous soil.  Too good to be true? I found out afterwards that at least two are needed for fruit to set.  They're not self-fertile so last year's plant has now been joined by 3 little chums. I would have bought only one but the offer was for a job lot. They've arrived and need to be potted on. (Jobs for March!)  What with the redcurrant and gooseberry bushes (one of each) and quite a few strawberries, the veg patch will be soft fruit central come summer.  With a bit of luck.

A splash of pink for spring!

 I don't know if it was just that the sun was shining, that it felt good to be outdoors and that I lingered over really taking note but it really felt that spring was breaking over the garden.  Heucheras putting out new leaves, paperwhites, narcissus and violets in flower, tulips coming up, honeysuckle on the way in, Viburnum x bodnantense still flowering but now with tiny leaves. (I must remember to move the clematis by the Viburnum as the leaf canopy gives a lot of shade.)


Herbs that died back (or should have done!) are reappearing (wild garlic, sweet cicely, comfrey, tarragon, mint, golden oregano) and the blackcurrant sage (which needs to be dug up and moved) has new flower buds.  Flat leaved parsley has become an enormous (but still edible) mound, lavender has been cut back and moved under the fruit trees, marshmallow is sprouting (top photo, below) - as are the spuds chitting on my windowsill indoors.


A lesson learned from the Great Dixter seed sowing study day was the advantage of sowing some hardier plants in the late summer, planting them out in the autumn or letting them overwinter in a cold frame. This gets them off to a good start in the spring as a strong root system will have had time to develop.  In the veg patch gardens, this theory is supported with August sown Cerinthe (quite my favourite plant at the moment as the stems look fabulous in a vase), Jacob's Ladder polemoniums (self seeded and growing strongly), Borage (about to flower), Cavalo Nero and white onions. I've even used some of the onions in a tomato sauce today along with parsley from my balcony. It's that mild winter, again.

Globe artichoke (top left), Tete a tete daffs with violets, Cerinthe major purpurescens

Considering I wasn't expecting to find much growing in the garden, this end of month review has shown how much the garden has evolved - not just as a 'veg patch', which was the original motivation for reviving the space, but as a proper garden.  All this and seeds still to be sown! I'm getting quietly excited by the year ahead.


I'm linking to both The Patient Gardener and Garden Share Collective for this end of month view. Thanks to both for hosting and sharing!

40 comments:

  1. We planted four honeyberries last year so let's hope we both get at least a taster.

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    1. I can only hope, Sue! Mine are all still a bit "twiggy" so I think a taster will be about it for this year. Are yours in pots or planted in the ground? I've read they grow quite large so am keeping mine in pots for now which may not be the best idea . ..

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  2. Everything seems on the move now thankfully, I've noticed blossoms in the hedgerows Blackthorn I suspect but like you I'm thankful that I only have buds on my fruit trees/bushes. March is such a tricky month isn't it! My sweet cicely is coming through again at the back of my small rhubarb patch. Not long now for a crumble or two!

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    1. I love that sweet cicely and rhubarb grow together, such a brilliant association! It's another clear day here today so hard to believe that the weather could turn but I remember being under thick snow this time last year! Indoor sowing still I think!

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  3. This time of year is so exciting with everything starting to grow again, buds waiting to burst open, bulbs flowering profusely and sown seeds germinating and popping through the compost. I too am looking forward to the fruit harvests this year, I've never really grown very much soft fruit in the past but I've had so much left on my new plot that I can't wait to taste it all.

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    1. How lovely that the previous tenants left fruit bushes behind - you can get stuck straight in without waiting! I really hope it's a good year weatherwise, it makes such a difference to both our crops and motivation. Everyone seems a lot more cheerful than during last year's extended winter!

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  4. A most enjoyable post showing what you've got to look forward to.
    I suppose that we shouldn't really be surprised at what we're finding and seeing now given the continuing relatively mild weather.
    Let's hope that March proves to be a good month to get us all off to a good start to the season.
    Flighty xx

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    1. Thank you Flighty! Last spring was so dismal that there is a sense of delight at finding the garden bursting back into life and it's a joy to find everything as it should be. Hopefully March will continue the weather trend and onwards into the rest of the year. A long summer would be glorious! xx

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  5. Some great pictures there, showing just how much is happening in the garden at this time if you are willing to get out and get close to the plants. Did you squish the caterpillar after you photographed it?!

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    1. Thank you! It's easier to capture plants close up now than expanses of bare earth to give a feel of what's happening. The caterpillar lived on - I'm not usually so forgiving but I don't think he'll dine well on a blade of festuca! I should have moved him to a nearby cabbage patch - it's a large bed commandeered by a neighbour one afternoon when I was out. All he does is grow tall cabbage plants, lets them run to seed and flower. I never see him picking any but he waters them for hours in the summer (surely a waste of water!) I wouldn't mind if the caterpillar feasted there!!

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  6. Caro, you certainly have managed to squeeze in a lot of plants in a small space. The trouble with gardening is that there's always just one more plant that you need, eh? BTW, what is it that you are using for chitting your potatoes - is it an ice-cube tray?
    It will be interesting to see what our colleagues over on the other side of the world have to show off for the Garden Share Collective - it ought to be the exact opposite of ours, I suppose.

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    1. Yes there does seem to be a lot going on, Mark. But here, it's little glimpses and tasters rather than enough to feed me throughout the year. That will come if I ever get an allotment (and the time to maintain such) ! I've had to be strict with my planting plans this year and trying to extend the season rather than have a big build up to summer harvests! Yes, my spuds are chitting in an ice-cube tray! Quite an inspired choice, I thought!
      I've read that Aus is having a heatwave and drought at the moment so, yes, it will make for interesting reading to see what's afoot in the Antipodes!

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  7. I'd be excited too, you really do have a lot going on. I haven't seen any sign of rhubarb yet but we have lots of buds which you know will green up soon, I just love spring.....such an exciting time and today we have sunshine!xxx

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    1. I can thank the mild winter for the current state of the garden. I love to be outdoors and was able to wrap up warmly and carry on regardless - there was a lot of tidying to do after last year! I've still got a lot to do but feel like I'm keeping up this year. The rhubarb is still very small but it's a variety that produces right through to early winter so plenty of time (and I have a small bag of last year's rhubarb in the freezer!) Sunshine always makes a happy difference!

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  8. You have so much coming into bud, another couple of weeks and it will be "all systems go". Our rhubarb is up and doing nicely and the black,red and gooseberry buds are swelling. Buds on the fruit trees are just about starting to swell, but I don't want them to come on too quickly or I'll have to rush up the garden with the fleece when frost is forecast!

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    1. I so agree, Pauline - never wise to rush things and I'm quite happy for all these buds to take their time. I remember we were under snow during March last year and the weather has a habit of throwing us a curve ball. I had rhubarb stems into December last year so I'm not surprised the plant is only just showing - it's another that will come good in its own time!

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  9. I am shocked at how much further ahead of us you are. It must be pretty thrilling.
    I have some narcissus like the ones in the picture. My aunt dug them up for me from her garden. Do you know what they are called Caro?

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    1. Hi Erin, I'm pleased you've left a comment as I lost your blog when my computer died last year! Can you email me the link or leave it in a comment? (Your blogger profile is locked so I can't reach you that way.)
      The narcissus are Tète-à-Tète; I bought them freshly dug up and wrapped in newspaper at an event last spring, planted them straight away and enjoyed the flowers for a couple of weeks. I'm really pleased to see them flower again this spring and have several bunches throughout the garden. Now wishing I'd planted them all together as they make a lovely sight!
      Despite recent storms, the weather here has been much milder than you've experienced but nature has a way of catching up! I'm interested to know how your garden is doing when I can find your blog again!!

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  10. Lots going on, it must be spring! I've got Autumn Bliss raspberries, and they have been quite poor four years out of five. The year that was very wet (2012) they were superb though, and earned themselves a reprieve. I also grow Glen Ample, and they are usually wonderful. Except in that wet year they weren't at all. Funny how it all works out isn't it.

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    1. I had the same experience, CJ - the wet year was a good one for the raspberries (and may well be the same this year, given all the rain!) I've read that raspberries like the soil to be moist and should be well mulched (something I fail to do) so you'd think all varieties would react the same way! It will be interesting to see if the Polka fruit is any different (when I get some!). You'll have to let me know how you get on with your Autumn Bliss this year, it's certainly been wet enough down your way! xx

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  11. What a fascinating range of edible plants. I do love buds, so much promise. Thanks for joining in with the meme

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    1. Thanks for hosting it, Helen, I've followed your meme for many months but never been organised enough to join in before. I try to grow a range of both edibles and ornamentals and the garden builds as the season progresses. Buds are about all that's happening at the moment apart from a few winter veg. Hopefully they signal that spring is not far off and I'll have blossom to show in the next end of month post!

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  12. Love the title Caro! March, a transition month wherein spring fever is starting to creep up and yet you still have to be on guard. Fascinating to see so many buds enlarging now and like what you've shown some have started to sprout already.

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    1. Aaah, THANK you, guys! I've been waiting for someone to 'get' my post title! haha! A sunny day does bring a little spring fever into a gardener's heart at this time of year but you know, with your tropical plants, that it's always safer to err on the side of caution.

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  13. I like the idea of seed sowing in late summer, where possible. It spreads the load a bit too.

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    1. Oh yes, me too, Rusty. It was one of the innovative thoughts that I learned at the Seed Study Day. I now have a section in my seed box for autumn sown plants.

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  14. Things seen to be quite advanced towards Spring in your garden. Looking great! Still waiting for the soil to dry out in north west Ireland.

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    1. Yes it all seems to have happened quite suddenly over the last few weeks but then it's been very mild here. Do hope your soil dries out soon - but not to the other extreme! Will be lovely to get sowing again!

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  15. All look so fresh. I can't wait the cherry blossom on your garden. It's a good beginning

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    1. The cherry blossom is one of the best things to see - I wonder if last year's bumper crop will be repeated! It is indeed a good beginning, thank you!

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  16. Hello! It all looks wonderful...I love this time of year. I actually managed to plant some seeds today (sweet peas and - as it happens - cerinthe, which I've never grown before.) The seeds were covered rather enthusiastically by my 4 year old, but will hopefully make their way back up to the light at some point! I'm also joining in the Garden Share Collective for the first time - rather nervously, as I'm in the company of many serious veg growers and gardeners! But I've enjoyed reading many of the other blogs, and thought it would be fun to take part. Happy growing, Lucy

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    1. Hi Lucy! Lovely to hear from you again, so pleased you're joining in with the Garden Share Collective and boosting UK presence! It will be interesting to see how gardeners across the world are faring as we go into spring and they go into winter! Don't be nervous, there will be lots to be gained. Sweet peas and cerinthe - my two favourites! I've also sown my sweet peas, must get round to the rest now!!

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  17. Oh I can't believe that there are caterpillars on the prowl already Caro :) Hope that this is the year of the plum for you and I'm convinced that you will be wowed by 'Polka' raspberries. Seeing your spuds chitting has reminded me that I must find some egg boxes to set mine out so thanks for jolting my memory.

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    1. I was really surprised to see this little caterpillar - and he was still there a day later, when I moved him onto a neighbour's flowering cabbage leaf plants, tut tut!). Good to know you think highly of Polka, I'm hoping that they'll fruit this year! You'll see that my spuds are chitting in an ice cube tray - I didn't have enough empty egg boxes to hand!

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  18. I've been surprised at the number of caterpillars I've spotted. Great to see signs of life appearing all over. But there is always that worry a frost will come along and ruin the party. Fingers crossed this won't be the case this year. You'll love 'Polka', a much, much better variety.

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    1. I've only seen the one - maybe the others are lurking where there's better food for them! Frost is a downside of having brighter sunny days and clear skies so I'm now armed with bell cloches and fleece for my tender plants! Pleased that you recommend Polka, they sound like a worthwhile investment!

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  19. A hasty note to remind you there will be a link box for Tree Following posts on Loose and Leafy tomorrow (March 7th). It'll stay open for seven days.
    http://looseandleafy.blogspot.co.uk/
    Lucy

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    1. Got it! Thanks Lucy, I'll be writing my post as soon as I've decided which of three trees I'm following. Thanks for the reminder!

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  20. Hi Caro, I've been seeing caterpillars too, blighters. Six years?! I don't want to wait six years for plums! I was hoping for more like two... Ah well, we'll see, at least they are here and planted. I am trying honeyberry too, though my three are tiny plug plants so I will have to be very patient indeed. I am already wishing I had paid more for larger plants, I do so love picking fruit. I think you will love Polka, I planted it instead of Autumn Bliss and we had a wonderful crop of huge juicy fruit last year despite the canes being so new. I had manure delivered the other day and must mulch the canes, I am eager for a bumper crop. You are so right about sowing hardy annuals and perennials in the late summer, I just pricked out seedlings of a euphorbia and selenium, they had amazing root systems, belying the tiny top growth. Hopefully this summer I will be organised enough to do more of this, and disciplined enough to look after the plants over winter too. Lovely to see around your patch, all springing in to growth so beautifully, hope it is a really good year for you!

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    1. Haha! I was hoping for plums in two years as well! And every year I look for signs of fruit as I LOVE plums. Common wisdom says that plums/pears take at least 4 years to fruit so I think I've waited long enough now! You've reminded me that I need to collect mulch for my canes and fruit trees to give them a good start - so many jobs to do now! Sounds like you're off to a good start with your autumn sown plants, I hope I can follow suit even without a greenhouse!

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Caro x

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