There are not many occasions when I get to happily crow about my parenting skills, but, today I have the rare opportunity. To my horror my two eldest sons started inviting their friends to a two night Halloween sleepover, with luck I got wind of these arrangements. Somewhere deep down, my maternal skills came to the fore. I successfully negotiated them down to a two hour Halloween party. This afternoon I have 30 kids daring to come to our scary ghoulish party. I still question whether it’s an entirely sensible idea, the husband tells me it will just be a big play date (you can obviously tell how many play dates he’s experienced with our boys!).

Proudly on display, at our front door are the pumpkins the boys and I grew for Halloween, I don’t think we’ll receive any carving awards but we had lots of fun making them.

Halloween pumpkins

The autumn leaves are amazing this year, the reds, yellows and oranges have been spectacular, so I thought we should have an autumnal wreath with a scary twist. I cut some willow whips which I wove into a circle, then just wired in some of the amazing leaves we have in the garden and added the odd spooky spider.Halloween autumnal wreath

Happy Halloween



Green manure

Regular readers of my blog will know that I love money and time saving, gardening concepts. Sowing green manure is a double whammy! It’s a cheap (price of a packet of seeds) garden manure, enriches your soil which results in strong healthy plants. Winter weeds are suppressed in your vegetable or cut flowers beds, it just needs digging in a couple of weeks before you’re ready to sow seed or plant up come spring.

This is the first time I’ve grown green manure so it’s a bit of an experiment. First of all I cleared the vegetable beds, quickly hoed them and removed any weeds. Then I thinly sprinkled the seed over the beds.

Vegetable bed prepared for green manure seedThe first vegetable bed prepared for the green manure seed

I have selected two green manure seed mixes; mustard from Nuts n’cones, which is a quick grower, I noticed this morning that it’s germinated in the four days since sowing. The other is a winter seed mix of rye and vetch, from Suttons seeds. Green manure seed

Come spring when you’re ready to dig in the manure, get the strimmer out and chop the green manure to a fine mulch, this will help it rot down in the soil quickly.

I am a little late sowing the manure, they say September/October is the optimum time for winter green manure, but, my vegetable and cutting garden beds have been in full swing up until now so fingers crossed it will have sufficient autumnal time to develop. I will report back on the results come spring.

Planting spring bulbs with an added extra special adventure

I only started working on our garden at the start of this year, much of my time has been spent pondering and planning for future years. Spring bulbs have been at the forefront of my thoughts, now is the time to get out there and plant them. There is just one exception, the tulip, wait until November for best planting results.

I aim to extend the cut flower season with all the spring bulbs, I also want to add some spring colour to the garden. I have split the bulb planting into four areas, the cut flower border, under apple trees, in the meadow and in my tiny woodland.

A basket of bulbs to be plantedThe bulbs ready for plantingTransplanter trowelI treated myself to a pointed trowel for the occasion

The cut flower border

At the top of my cut flower border I’ve planted rows of bulbs. Anemone Coronaria Sylphide, a stunning deep pink that will brighten any spring day, it shouts at me to be put in a vase with Ranunculus Aviv Orange a fabulous zingy hot colour. The deep pink and orange combination just makes me smile. So of course they have been planted side by side in the cutting bed. I have also planted rows of Muscari ‘Siberian tiger’ (a white grape hyacinth) and Drumstick Alliums, small purple pom poms that are very useful in spring flower arrangements. I have lots of traditional blue Muscari in other areas of the garden and I’ve planted Allium ‘purple sensation’ (my all time favourite Allium) in to my ornamental flower beds.

Daffodils under the apple trees

A row of nine apple trees divide my kitchen garden in two, one side is my cutting border the other the raised vegetable beds and dahlia border. In spring this central spine of trees look bare and sparse, so my plan over the years is to under plant with daffodils. This year I’ve filled the first section closest to the path with white scented narcissi, not only will they look great lifting a dull patch but there should be a gorgeous scented punch as you walk by. My selection has been Narcissus Triandrus Tresamble, Narcissus Thalia (my favourite daffodil) and Narcissus Recurvus (the delicate pheasant eye daffodil).

Narcissus planting under fruit treesFrustratingly I didn’t photograph the bare spine of apple trees this spring, but you can see a few to the side of the cut flower border here

The meadow

A couple of years ago a friend took me on a guided spring walk of RHS Wisley with Colin Crosbie, Wisley’s Curator. He has an infectious, enthusiasm and passion, not only did I leave wanting to plant my very own arboretum (not entirely practical), but we were wowed by his meadow filled with the blue spires of Camassia; I was bowled over and completely smitten. I could never recreate the wonderful scale of this at Wisley, but, I’m keen to attempt the effect in my smaller meadow area. I think every year I will add a few more just to lift the impact and spread the cost!Camassia

Camassia in long grassMeadow areaThe meadow in the foreground has been planted with Camassia bulbs

The wooded area

On one side of our pond is the meadow, situated in full sun, on the other, a small wooded area with dappled shade. In years to come I hope to develop this mini woodland adding hellebores, wood anemones and other shade loving beauties that sit well in a slightly wild patch. For now there is one essential, our native English blue bell. Every year I treasure my dog walks, seeking out the blue haze of a spectacular bluebell carpet. I have never succeeded in recreating the visual impact in a photograph, so to have my very own bluebell copse would be magical. With time the Scilla Nutans should naturalise and spread, I may need to give them a helping hand planting a few extra each year.Mini wodland

The wooded area where I dream of a Blue Bell haze

A daffodil adventure

My bulb planting in the last few days has taken on another dimension. I was approached to do the flowers for a wedding, I was initially touched to be asked, feeling privileged and complimented, but within a second, reality hit and I said no. Weddings are the creation of treasured memories for the bride, groom and their families. Flowers are an essential element, adding to the atmosphere and fabric of the event, there is no margin for error, to disappoint a bride with a sub-standard display is not something I ever want to experience. On top of all that, it’s an Easter wedding at the end of March, the only flowers I’ll have in bloom are daffodils.

A few weeks past, during this time my mind kept drifting towards daffodil party ideas and I started researching images on my laptop. My enthusiasm slowly increased until I found myself asking the ‘bride to be’ if she’d like to discuss her ideas for the reception flowers further. I did explain that the bouquet was a complete ‘no no’. So I’m brimming with excitement, we’ve agreed on some ideas. Bringing me back down to earth is one challenging hurdle, timing. The main chosen bloom is Narcissus ‘Bridal Crown’ a beautiful, cream scented flower with an apt name, approximate flowering time March/April. We’re in with a chance of flowers for the wedding day, but, to help hedge my bets I’m planting the bulbs in pots and will lug them inside and out, from the green house, to the conservatory and back out again depending on their developmental needs. With hope and lots of luck they’ll be perfect specimens for the end of March. I doubt this will be the last the ‘Produce from the garden’ blog hears of my hair brained adventure. Weddings really should be left to the professionals!

Narcissus bridal crownNarcisscus ‘Bridal Crown’

Picture taken by Mark Pellegrini at Longwood Gardens. Narcissus ‘Bridal Crown’ (Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5)

Autumn sown seedlings and Larkspur failure!

A week ago I sowed some hardy annuals for the cut flower border next year.  Germination has been quick. The cornflower ‘Black ball’ were up first closely followed by godetia and sweet peas; which I chipped a small section of skin from the seed with a sharp knife, the result a 100% germination. The nigellas, cerinthe, wild carrot, ammi, florists dill, bupleurum rotundifolium were close behind. My only failure larkspar, this is a re-occurring problem, I have tried to sow larkspur seed in a variety of ways including; freezing the seed prior to sowing, in and out of propagators and at different times of year. On average I manage one plant a season, an appalling result which would generally result in me accepting defeat and not bothering again. But not larkspar, I am dazzled by the dark blue aura it emits, reminiscent of Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech that I long to visit. So yet again I try my luck with larkspar seeds. Any tips for success would be very much appreciated.

Autumn sown seedlingsAutumn sown seedlings

Extend your vegetable plot season

There was a time when I wondered why us gardeners worked so hard planning, preparing and tending our patches for rewards that last less than half the year (May to October). I would put it down to our passion for gardening. I now know that I got completely the wrong end of the stick, gardens are to be treasured, enjoyed and harvested throughout the year. With careful planning and preparation, you can have bountiful produce from the garden all year round.

Autumn is a key time to sow winter salad and crops for spring and early summer, usually I just sow broad beans and garlic. This year Suttons seeds website has inspired me to be more adventurous.

Broad bean, ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ is a delicious variety which harvests earlier than spring sown broad beans. Sow them directly into your vegetable bed and unless we have an extremely cold winter it should have no problems, if we do have that suspected freeze this year I’ll pop fleece over it for a bit of protection. Garlic seems to thrive on a cold spell and my autumn sown garlic is always a much heartier and healthy crop than weedy spring grown specimens. Plant the individual cloves pointy end up, 5 cm deep and approx 15 cm apart.

Garlic and broad bean seedsGarlic cloves and broad bean seeds

Planting broadbeansPlanting the broad beans, giving them plenty of spacePlanting garlicPlating the garic clove, 5 cm deep, pointy end up

The Sutton seed selection includes spring or salad onions, ‘White Lisbon’ which is winter hardy and should be ready in March and April. Peas, ‘Douce Provence’ is recommended for autumn sowing and hopefully we’ll get an early crop to look forward to in May. For the first time I am going to try and grow winter salad, instead of resorting to bags of super market salad. I am trialling the salad leaves outside and in the greenhouse; it will be interesting to see how they compare. I have sown a spicy oriental salad leaf mix which is advertised as ‘Speedy veg, ready in three weeks’, a leaf salad mix and Italian salad leaf mix, both come in seed tapes which are another first for me. They are easy to sow and I’ll be interested to see if the germination and growth is better with the seed tape spacing than my normal seed sprinkling method.

Autumn veg seedsMy autumn Suttons seed selctionAutumn sown peasSowing peasLeaf salad in seed tapePlanting the seed tapeOutside autumn veg sowingsMy outside autumn sowingsAutumn salad sown in the greenhouseAutumn salad sown in the greenhouse

I look forward to seeing the progress over the coming weeks and months.

How to get an earlier cut flower crop next year

Autumn is the time to sow hardy annual flowers. They can of course be sown in Spring, but, sowing now enables you to bring the flowering season forward, you can enjoy cut flowers weeks if not a month early. Sow directly into the soil where they will flower, or as I’ve done sow in pots and over winter in a cold frame. I like to sow a green manure over winter in the cut flower bed. My October cut flower sowings have included, Nigella, Ammi, Cerinthe, Godetia, Cornflower Sweet Peas, Bupleurum rotundifolium, Anethum ‘Graveolens Mariska’ also know as Florists Dill, Larkspur and Calendula.

Hardy annual flower seeds

The kitchen garden in September

It’s been a glorious end to September, blue skies and low autumnal sunshine giving the garden a rich golden glow.

Our apples and pears have cropped heavily this year and we’ve started to pick our bounty. The pear trees branches are drooping heavily with weight of the fruit. Sadly I’ve just noticed an apple trees that is leaning at a 45° angle with the weight of its harvest. I’m hoping I can pull the trunk back up with a sturdy stake and a tree strap.

I’m still filling the house with flowers from the cutting border. The sunflowers are fabulous, but, it’s the dahlias that are the star of the show, they really take off into another dimension come the autumn. Long may the frosts evade us.

We continue to crop courgettes, tomatoes, kale, spinach, salad leaves, runner beans and beetroot. We’ve just started to harvest our butternut squash and borlotti beans. An oddity for this time of year, I cut our first crop of purple sprouting broccoli, I can only think I sowed it far too early. It was not a pleasant addition to our supper, six caterpillars were discovered floating in the water and further intruders were discovered on our plates. It’s not all rosy living the ‘Produce from the garden’ good life!

As usual here’s the September summary in pictures:

SunflowerInstant happiness! Cut and come again sunflowers.Cosmos PurityA sea of cosmos ‘purity’PearsPearsApple and pear harvestApple and pear harvestBorlotti beansBorlotti beans, dried in their pods on the plant. I can’t wait for a borlotti bean and sausage stew!Tomatoes in greenhouseTomatoes still going strong in the greenhousePlum tomatoesDelicious plum tomatoesHerb bedMy herb bed, packed with sage, thyme, parsley, oregano, chives and garlic chives with their beautiful white pom pom flowersButternut squash HunterButternut squash ‘Hunter’Runner bean flowersRunner beans flowering and cropping wellCourgetteCourgettesKale RedborTastes amazing, looks stunning in the vegetable patch and will see us through till springKale Cavolo NeroCavolo Nero, an italian kale perfect with pasta, it will also see us through until SpringPurple sprouting broccoliThe offending purple sprouting broccoli, fingers crossed it will be at its peak after Christmas

My top 11 dahlias this year

September has been the month to sit back and enjoy the dahlias; they have been exceptional this month. Dahlias are the hardest working flower in the kitchen garden, the more you cut, the more flowers they send up. They never show signs of tiring, and I’m guaranteed armfuls of blooms from July until the first frosts.

Here are my top 11 (I promise I did try to keep it to 10!) dahlias this year:

Dahlia Ambition1. Dahlia Ambition – the pink just zings

Dahlia Cafe au Lait2. Dahlia Cafe au Lait- stunning as a single stem cut flower, a sophisticated belle of the ball

Dahlia Paul Emory3. Dahlia Paul Emory – A hum dinger of a dinner plate dahlia

Dahlia Franz Kafka4. Dahlia Franz Kafka – a pretty pom pom, very useful in a hand tie bouquet

Dahlia Furka5. Dahlia Furka – a fabulous pure white dahlia

Dahlia Hillcrest Royal6. Dahlia Hillcrest Royal – it brings a cut flower arrangement alive

Dahlia Rip city7. Rip city – a gorgeous dark dahlia with prolific flowering

Dahlia Thomas A Edison8. Dahlia Thomas A Eddison – One of my all time favourites, sadly not flowered as well this year

Dahlia Sam Hopkins9. Dahlia Sam Hopkins – my favourite dark dahlia, a very versatile cut flower with lovely long stems

Dahlia Glorie van heemstede10. Dahlia Glorie van Heemstede – Inherited when we moved here, lovely long stems prolific flowering and looks great with several stems in a vase or mixed with one of the dark red dahlias

Dahlia Tamburo11. Dahlia Tamburo – A beautiful dark dahlia, another cut flower essential

I hope this has inspired you to start thinking about the dahlia tubers you’ll be ordering next year. A great place to start looking is The national dahlia collection website, it has a good system to help you search. It’s certainly worked for me, I’ve run out of room for dahlias in the kitchen garden so am going to build some raised beds in the front garden to squeeze a few more darlings in next year!